Off Menu podcast – Ed Gamble James Acaster with Richard Herring. Best British podcast award 2019 and many others. Popular. The UK’s answer to TFATK or 2 Bears One Cave or History Hyenas.
It’s funny, jolly, trivial, nonsense. The hosts are both hilarious comics. But this podcast pisses me off. Because it rolled onto the scene with an amateur-y improv homespun feel, like a pissaround but backed by a hardcore media marketing machine, tech support staff, scripting. It makes a big footprint and probably crushed a dozen genuinely independent off the cuff podcasts with real content on with the humour.
Also this kind of witty knowing ladculture has been fucking up UK for decades. False spontaneity, scripted fun, panel show paradigm that’s sucked the air out of British popular comedy since the Mighty Boosh. Off Menu, like Baddiel and Skinner and Buzzcocks, Shooting Stars, Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You? etc. Scripted hilarity. They’re all great shows with mostly fab comedians. It’s just there’s nothing else. The creative energy of some of the world’s funniest comedians, turned into popular content (5 million plus viewers on old media, 10-15 million views on YouTube clips). Fair enough. But it’s throwaway, 100% performance 0% real crossover. It passes the time without going anywhere. It’s a passive, too. There’s nothing being debated, no progression, reset button at the start of every show like an episode of The Simpsons. World doesn’t change.
The UK paradigm very much fits the British cultural psyche, where audiences are looking to laugh and unexpected earnestness (sincerity) is a discordant faux-pas to be ignored, evaded or mocked. This escapism has its place but feels dysfunctional to pass every spare moment in escapist mindset. Sidebar: British comedy escapism isn’t driven by crap oppressed daily lives seeking the release. Quite the opposite. The UK has a remarkably comfortable, secure, cosmopolitan middle class. It’s almost like it’s so well-honed, so trusted, so sure of its continuity, there’s no struggle left. Once a career is in motion, all doors ahead are somehow open; so long as you stick to the conventional routes.
Ambition exists, in the educated British middle class, but it’s tempered by self-deprication and patience. To show ambition loudly would be considered gauche, rude, and if you keep intruding an aggressive ambition on peers, popularity will suffer. Those open doors start becoming silently locked, an anonymous slow-build exclusion if behaviour isn’t remedied. Versions of this metaphor exist from school days so the vast majority are well-conditioned by the time career is launched.