New Wave Comedy: Post-funny?

Let me begin by stating, without irony, that Noel Fielding is the man I would most like to marry. Now we have got that out in the open, I would also like to voice that watching his new “Luxury Comedy” is akin to experiencing an unfunny, self-indulgent, drug-addled, children’s TV show. Stoically I have trawled through each episode, clinging tenaciously to my Noel Fielding fidelity, but, if anything, things are only getting worse. This disconcerting experience led me to this question: what exactly does Noel Fielding think he is doing? The answer, I found, is New Wave Comedy.

‘New Wave’ is a term most commonly coupled with a type of underground music that emerged in the 80s which mixed rock with synthesisers and other electronic and experimental influences, and became a genre that was deemed quirky and eccentric. In recent decades, however, it has been stretched by over-usage to include almost anything that is considered an avant-garde or experimental move in the arts. So here’s where the comedy comes in. New Wave comedy is characterised by whimsy, surrealism and the translation of the everyday into the dreamlike. It is frequently colourful, magical and bizarre, often ridiculous, but always imaginative. New Wave comedy is essentially observational comedy on crack.

Comedians and comedy shows employing New Wave Comedy, or at least a very similar style, have been dipping in and out of mainstream entertainment since Monty Python. However, one of the most recent, and most popular, re-emergence into prime television, and beyond, has been The Mighty Boosh. After gathering a cult following initially, it grew and grew and brought its magical characters and psychedelic mirthful adventures to stadiums across the UK. I know not everyone will agree with me on this, as is the nature of entertainment, but I would strongly maintain that the Boosh was funny; and also that it can be considered ‘comedy’. Julian Barratt’s narrative and character focus, along with intelligently-formed jokes balanced Noel Fielding’s childlike imaginings, fantastical ramblings and obsession with a Technicolor aesthetic.

Luxury Comedy has no such balance. The mundane is transported to a surreal and hallucinatory world, which, as admitted by Fielding himself, and other members of his cast, is, “a downloading of Noel’s brain”. The sad thing is that concepts that may be funny in Noel’s brain seem not to be so, and at times are even depressing or disturbing, when aired on television and watched by those of us who are sober and in the “real world”. Somewhere, in the exploration of avant-garde New Wave comedy, Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy has lost it’s comedy. It could be in the perfection of an intense and extravagant visual experience, or the focus on pushing the boundaries of what has been done before in televised comedy, or even the self-indulgence of Noel Fielding’s desire to create a show that combines his art, imaginings and dreams. Wherever the focus was placed, it was emphatically on “Noel Fielding” and “Luxury” and not on “comedy”.

Fantasy Man in Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy ©Channel 4

However, this is not to say that all New Wave Comedy will make your eyes hurt and crush your hopes and expectations. It is, overall, an innovative and underrated movement in the entertainment field, and has been channelled effectively in both stand-up and sitcoms, some of which have made it into the mainstream public eye and some of which remain underground treasures, yet to be dug up and displayed in the glass cabinet of prime-time television. For any hipsters or indie kids who like ‘discovering’ various things ‘before anyone else’ check out Joey Page, who recently made his first appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and is somewhat of a protégée of Noel Fielding.

Despite my Luxury Comedy disenchantment, having done some more YouTube-based research, I find myself an avid fan of New Wave Comedy. Fielding, Barratt, and Page’s stand-up routines are all commendable and refreshingly different. This is comedy that takes you somewhere else, which avoids predictable punch lines and engages with imagination in a way no other style of comedy does. My only plea to Noel Fielding (aside from “marry me”) would be: by all means extend limits, do something experimental, make something visually beautiful and fantastical, but please, please do not go so alternative, so post-modern, that you are post-comedy or, and this is worse, post-funny.

To read more on this topic, visit The Velvet Onion.

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