Weird, dark, and awkward: The best British comedy shows

Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry in Snuff Box

Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry in Snuff Box

The first time I saw an episode of Monty Python on television I was hooked on British comedy. As a teenager in the mid-80′s I loved watching The Young Ones on MTV. And now, the last 10 years has been a golden age of British comedy. What follows is not a comprehensive list of every British comedy show — just a selection of shows that I’ve watched or re-watched over the last decade. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments. I’ve loosely organized the list by genre, or by groups of actors who’ve worked together on multiple shows.

Matt Berry, Richard Ayoade, and The Mighty Boosh

Snuff Box
Snuff Box [Amazon | Netflix] – Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher play two hangmen who spend most of their time in a lounge drinking whiskey. The show is interspersed with Python-esque sketches. Snuff Box is only six episodes, and aired once on BBC 3 back in 2006. A DVD was released in 2011, and the show recently became available for streaming on Netflix.  You might recognize Matt Berry as the big boss Douglas Reynholm on the IT Crowd. Both Berry and Fulcher also appeared on The Mighty Boosh.

  • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace [Amazon | YouTube] – A hilarious faux 80′s haunted hospital drama starring Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade.
  • Man to Man with Dean Learner [YouTube] – A spin-off of Darkplace, Man to Man is a talk show that’s a must see for Richard Ayoade fans.
  • AD/BC: A Rock Opera [Amazon] – A 30-minute 70′s style rock opera show from 2004 starring Matt Berry, Julian Barratt, and Richard Ayoade. Noel Fielding and Rich Fulcher have bit parts, too.
  • Toast of London [YouTube] – Matt Berry plays Steven Toast, an eccentric failed actor.

The Mighty Boosh
The Mighty Boosh [Amazon | Netflix] – Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt are out there. The show also features Rich Fulcher, who Noel once described as “the weirdest person I’ve ever met.”

  • Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy [YouTube] – A British Pee Wee’s Playhouse set in the 70′s on a bunch of psychedelic drugs. Surreal and bizarre.
  • The 2011 offbeat comedy The Bunny and the Bull [Amazon | Netflix] was directed by Paul King, who also directed The Mighty Boosh.
  • Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh was in the 1996 show Asylum alongside Simon Pegg. This show is a bit difficult to track down.

The IT Crowd
The IT Crowd [Amazon | Netflix] – Yes, the infamous “have you tried turning it off and on again” show. Written by Graham Linehan (Father Ted, Black Books), and featuring Richard Ayoade, and Matt Berry.

The Legacy of Monty Python

Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python’s Flying Circus [Amazon | Netflix] – The movies are fantastic, but the Flying Circus is what originally got me going on British comedy. The box set is indispensable.

The Young Ones
The Young Ones [Amazon | Netflix] – As a teenager, The Young Ones left a lasting impression on me. 30 years later and it’s still weird and funny.

  • Bottom [Amazon | Netflix] – Can’t get enough? Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson of The Young Ones are bickering roommates in Bottom.

Little Britain
Little Britain [Amazon | Netflix] – Matt Lucas and David Walliams are two strange lads who play almost all of characters in this fun sketch comedy. Some bits are better than others, but when it’s good it’s fantastic.

  • Come Fly with Me [Amazon | Netflix] The lads play just about every character in this airport comedy. More hit and miss than Little Britain.

The League of Gentlemen
The League of Gentlemen [Amazon | Netflix] – What if you crossed Little Britain with Delicatessen [Amazon | Netflix]? This is a local show for local people. Definitely the darker side of British Comedy.

  • Psychoville [Amazon] – If you’re a League of Gentlemen fan, you’ll probably like Psychoville.

Simon Pegg, Dylan Moran & Friends

Black Books
Black Books [Amazon | Netflix] – Clerks [Amazon | Netflix] may be the ultimate movie about working retail in the U.S., but thankfully there’s Black Books for the U.K. Dylan Moran is perfect as the grouchy, nihilistic book store owner, and Bill Bailey is his wacky foil. Simon Pegg’s bit role as the chain bookstore manager is hilarious.

Spaced
Spaced [Amazon | Netflix] – Simon Pegg stars in this roommate comedy that’s laced with cultural references, weirdness, and inside jokes.

  • Green Wing [Amazon] – More of a dramedy – I know British comedy fans on both sides of the fence about this show.
  • There are 2 or 3 wonderful, full length Dylan Moran standup shows on YouTube
  • A Film with Me In It [Amazon | Netflix] – Dylan Moran stars in this dark comedy where everyone keeps freakishly dying.
  • Burke and Hare [Amazon | Netflix] – I suppose selling cadavers for science counts as dark comedy. Starring Simon Pegg.

Awkwardness: The cringe humour of The Office UK, and Mitchell and Webb

The Office UK
The Office UK [Amazon | Netflix] – Ricky Gervais is an acquired taste for some, and funny beyond belief to others. This depends on how comfortable you are being uncomfortable.

Peep Show
Peep Show [Amazon | Netflix] – If you enjoyed cringing your way through the awkwardness of The Office, Mitchell and Webb will test your cringe reflexes to the limit.

  • That Mitchell and Webb Look [Amazon | Netflix] – Highly recommended sketch comedy from Mitchell and Webb with less cringing than Peep Show.

Further Explorations

Some additional shows that have been recommended to me that I haven’t investigated yet.

  • Big Train
  • Nighty Night
  • Jam
  • Brass Eye
  • Monkey Dust
  • Human Remains
  • Rising Damp

So, Anglophiles, what other shows am I missing? I look forward to hearing about your favorite weird U.K. comedies in the comments.

 

 

Valley Junkyard Night Photography and Camaro Eclipse 360 Panorama

Valley Junkyard Night Photography Gallery

Valley Junkyard Night Photography Gallery

Eight new night photographs from last week’s night photography and light painting workshop are now on my website. Hit the full screen button and go big!
You’ll see star trails, old VWs, Datsun 240zs, piles of tires, trees growing out of cars, and more.

Camaro Eclipse: A 360 degree full moon junkyard panorama

Camaro Eclipse: A 360 degree full moon junkyard panorama

And just as the total lunar eclipse was starting I was shooting a 360 night panorama of some old Camaros, El Caminos, trucks, and RVs. A nice halo formed around the moon, and you can see Mars shining brightly. This 360 night pano is part of a ten panorama night tour of the Valley Junkyard. Use your mouse to take a spin around the junkyard, and click on a white dot for another view.

Shooting and processing HDR night photography from Mare Island

The Nocturnes head honcho Tim Baskerville lives on Mare Island, and has been hosting occasional night photography events there since 2006. Mare Island Naval Shipyard was established in 1854, and decommissioned in 1996. A wide variety of old buildings and dry docks remain. Mare Island has enough lighting for night photography whether there is a full moon or not. The mixed lighting conditions can be challenging for night photography. Below are four images from last Saturday’s adventure, along with notes about how to shoot and process HDR night photography.

Mare Island crane D3 and dry dock
The dry docks and cranes at Mare Island are always a interesting subject for night photography. Unfortunately, these areas are fenced, which makes getting a good camera position tough. A lot of photographers at the event marveled at my solution to this problem. I have a Gitzo 3541XLS tripod (now the Gitzo 3542XLS) that goes up to 6.6 feet tall. Add the height of the ballhead and camera, and you can easily shoot over a standard fence, which is how I got this shot.

The image is composed of a five shot bracket of 8 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. The 5 images were blended together using Exposure Fusion in Photomatix. Then I brought the blended image into Photoshop. Using a layer mask, I used the foreground from the blended HDR image, and the sky from the 2 minute exposure.

Natural Looking HDR

<rant> HDR is a dirty word (or dirty acroynm) in some circles, due to rampant abuse of HDR software. I used to blend exposures on a layer mask to make sure my photos looked like photos instead of clown puke. Over the last few years I’ve realized that HDR can be used for very natural looking results. I want my photographs to look like photographs, not some bad Photoshop filter from the 1990′s. Anyhow, HDR can save you a lot of time when you’re shooting at night under mixed lighting conditions. If you’re interested in learning HDR techniques, I highly recommend Christian Bloch’s The HDRI Handbook 2.0. Even experienced HDR shooters will pick up some great techniques from this book. </rant> Let’s continue with some more night photography examples.

Mare Island crane truck C5 at night
My compositional style typically favors the grand view instead of detail shots. I did two different setups for the picture of this truck, and ended up liking the tighter framing above. This image is a three shot bracket of 24 seconds, 46 seconds, and 2 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. The three images were merged to HDR in Photoshop, and the resulting 32-bit TIFF file was processed in Lightroom. The light in the window at the bottom right was blown out, even in the shortest exposure. I was planning to shoot a few shorter exposures, but I had to move my tripod. I was setup in the middle of the road, and a car drove through before I could finish. The bright area could be adjusted by simply using the clone stamp to bring some tonal value back in the bottom window panes, although I’m not sure that it bothers me.

Mare Island buoys and cranes at night
I scouted this shot during a walk at sunset, and was happy with how dark and mysterious the area looked at night. Shooting this image proved to be complicated because a bright orange building light behind me kept turning off and on every 2-3 minutes. I ended up with a five shot bracket of 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. The fifth shot was also 2 minutes at f/9.5, but at ISO 400.

The building light was on for a few seconds in a couple of the exposures. I thought this might help with a little bit of fill light, but it ended up making the resulting colors look weird when I merged to HDR in Photoshop. The Photomatix Fusion results looked better, but the image still had a slight HDR look. I used the 2 minute exposure for the sky, and tried layering the HDR version on top for more foreground detail. The tone of the image looked just about right, but the color in the buoys still looked a little bit off. I switched the HDR image layer with the foreground detail to Luminosity Blend Mode — problem solved! The tone looked good, and the colors looked natural.

Mare Island night geometry with Orion's Belt
The hardest part of this shot was smelling the fumes from the nearby buildings that are used to paint large pipes. The foreground is a four shot bracket of 45 seconds, 90 seconds, 3 minutes, and 6 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. After reviewing the bracketed shots on the back of the camera, I noticed that Orion’s Belt would be in a good position in the sky soon. I waited a few minutes, and then made a 10 minute exposure at f/11, ISO 100. The 5 shot bracket was blended with Exposure Fusion in Photomatix. The foreground is the HDR image, and the sky is from the 10 minute exposure.

I hope these shooting and post-processing details are useful for those who are interested in shooting HDR at night. You can see bigger versions of these photos, and more night photography of Mare Island on my website.

360 night tour of the International Car Forest in Nevada

Virtual night tour of the International Car Forest of the Last Church

Virtual night tour of the International Car Forest of the Last Church


Last October I visited the International Car Forest of the Last Church in Goldfield, Nevada. There are about 40 cars and buses buried nose first in the ground. The work is a collaboration between Mark Rippie and Chad Sorg. Have a look at the gallery of long exposure night photos of the car forest on my website. On the second magical night of shooting under a full moon in the car forest,  I shot 360 panoramas. Enjoy a 10 panorama virtual night tour of the car forest by clicking on the image above.

Marquetry artist Ian Smith: 360 night panorama made of wood

In January, an artist named Ian Smith from Manchester England contacted me about creating a wood version of my Desert Center 360 night panorama.

Desert Center Gas Station Full Moon 360 Panorama — by Joe Reifer

Desert Center Gas Station Full Moon 360 Panorama — by Joe Reifer

Ian Smith works in the ancient art of marquetry, which involves cutting pieces of wood veneer by hand to create an image. Ian described the project as:

I am hoping to do a more modern pastiche of the baroque style (defined by bold curving forms and dramatic effects with a touch of the bizarre). I have been checking out your amazing work and in particular I love the 360 degree picture of the old gas station.

I sent Ian a high resolution image to work from, and the piece is nearing completion. I was really blown away by Ian’s interpretation of the image.

Desert Center Gas Station Full Moon 360 Panorama -- marquetry version by Ian Smith

Desert Center Gas Station Full Moon 360 Panorama — marquetry version by Ian Smith

As an experiment, I made an interactive version of Ian’s marquetry gas station piece.

Continue reading

Night photography, abandoned places, desert ruins, 360 panoramas, and artistic inspiration