What the Farce?! Understanding Why Noises Off is So Funny

The moment’s arrived. The final blog. Before you break into tears at the very thought, remember all the good times we’ve shared. Like Blog #1 and even Blog #2. And remember, we’ll always have Paris. That’s not even remotely true...but we will have this show, so let’s send it off on a positive note!

Now you may be asking yourselves, “just how is this show so bloody hilarious?” In case experiencing the silliness was not enough for you, and you truly want to learn more about why...Well, let’s dive in! You may have noticed that there is a distinct difference between movies and TV shows that come out of the UK and those that come from America. (Or perhaps you didn’t, I don’t know how observant you are.) But just what is that difference? What is that certain comedic je ne sais quoi? While one isn’t necessarily better than the other (though we all have our preference) they each have elements that are hallmarks of the place they hail from. 

After You Read This Blog...

While I have decided against throwing historical facts about the origins of comedy on you higglety-pigglety, I will tell you about some of the more modern influences of British comedy. You will most likely be familiar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But did you know the movie happened after the success of a popular sketch comedy show called Monty Python’s Flying Circus, co-founded by John Cleese? Think original Saturday Night Live, but British. You can still find many of these skits on YouTube, if you care to check them out, which I highly suggest you do. Mr Bean, played by Rowan Atkinson, is a well-known character that explores a different side of the comedy spectrum. And my personal favorite: a TV show called Jeeves and Wooster , starring Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie. Was this all an excuse to name-drop some television shows and get you to watch some brilliant British comedy? Perhaps...but you can thank me later. 

 

(Hardly) Elementary, My Dear Reader

“British humor is often said to go over the heads of everyone else in the world, likely because it’s far too sophisticated and pretentious for anybody to really understand” (“British Humour”). While that is a rather pretentious answer in and of itself, it is more or less true. The Brits are regarded as a highly intelligent people and it is not surprising that it finds its way into their sense of humour. The United States is usually regarded as a hustling-bustling nation that values quick results, and that is showcased in our comedy. While we often dish out humor that is on the nose and right to the point, our friends across the pond are a bit more leisurely with their jokes and how they reach the punchline. Though perhaps that thought is disproved as soon as they fire their razor-sharp wit, but I digress.

 

*gestures in British

Physical comedy is also a common trope you will find. (Mr Bean, anyone?) This style goes back many years, finding its roots in things like the Italian Commedia dell’arte. And while this idea is nothing new, the way it is done in the UK is far different than in the United States. If we are generalizing American physical comedy-at least in the modern era-it is usually about cheap shots at another character and comedy through violence. And the UK, while still utterly ridiculous, is a bit more nuanced and clever in how they approach it. (Oops, my bias is showing. Pardon me.) In Act II of Noises Off, the majority of what happens is physical. The story progresses mostly through action and gesture and movement for almost an entire act of a play. We see relationships change and morph, alliances form and break. Now that is impressive! 

 

Everything is Just...FINE

So, you want British humor in a nutshell. They uphold the utmost decorum and politeness in every situation no matter what madness is happening...until they cannot help but explode, and explode absolutely everywhere. Then they must pick up the pieces of the explosion and put them back exactly the way they were, however damaged and burnt they may be. Was that a successful metaphor? You tell me. But the idea that the world could literally be ending, and someone is bothering to get out their best china and make tea for the guests, even asking if they would like cream and sugar...has that idea already been used? (Asking for a friend.) 

As this final blog draws to a close, I must say what an absolute pleasure this a been. I do hope you’ve had the opportunity and honor to see this guffaw-inducing, tear-streaming,  face-hurts-from-smiling production! It is truly worth the hype and more. Go forth and enjoy British comedy-that is my wish for you. You deserve it after all. So, here’s looking at you, kid. Cheers!

“British Humour.” TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BritishHumour.