In CTS we opened up a discussion about stereotypes last week. The conversation was at first centered around the character of Vicky Pollard in the skit comedy show Little Britain. We watched a few videos of her and were asked to reflect on the possible offensive nature of stereotypes.
Many people in the room liked Little Britain and were laughing at the jokes, whilst others found it stupid and offensive. I personally find Little Britain and Vicky Pollard hilarious, my parents used to watch the show when I was growing up and we would always do impressions of the characters and mimic their catchphrases. I think there are a lot of different types of humour in the world and I really understand that Little Britain isn’t funny to everyone, but it is personally very funny to me.
That being said, when watching Little Britain I often feel that I am laughing at something I shouldn’t be laughing at because the humour is based in cruelty and mockery. The show prides itself in being rude, offensive and over the limit. It relies heavily on stereotypes to poke fun at different groups of people such as LBGT, lower class people, the elderly, the disabled, minorities that suffer daily from discrimination and injustice. In those respects I really understand how some people dislike Little Britain.
To me the underlying question here is can you laugh at everything and everyone?
The reason I like this show is because I feel it has a complete lack of seriousness and Matt Lucas and David Walliams are primarily making fun of themselves. It has to be said : they are really funny looking men and they are extremely good at transforming themselves into weird characters. Matt Lucas has an odd appearance, he’s bald and overweight and is gay himself, and it therefore seems more legitimate and acceptable that he uses those aspects of his life in his comedy. David Williams too uses a subtle mix of his own imperfections and his observations about society to make people laugh. The Little Britain characters incorporate aspects of the comedians that portray them and while they are undoubtedly ridiculous they also provoke a degree of affection as well as mockery.
The two actors rely a lot on their physique to make people laugh. So while the show does make fun of quite vulnerable people, it is quite clear that these are extremely over exaggerated stereotypes. Everything is taken way too far and is way too ridiculously extreme to be taken seriously in my opinion. I think Little Britain plays with using such strong stereotypes to make the audience think about how they are themselves prejudiced. Take the famous duo Lou and Andy: Andy is a fake paraplegic and his best friend Lou spends his time caring for him and being incredibly patient, completely oblivious to the fact that Andy gets up every time he has his back turned. It is a misconception to say that they are making fun of paraplegics because in reality, what is really funny is that Andy is so incredibly lazy that he is faking being disabled so that he can have Lou wheel him around all the time. I think it is more about making fun of the character itself rather than a certain group of people.
There has also been arguments saying that the show exclusively pokes fun at vulnerable people but I would disagree. Having watched the entire thing, I find there is quite a broad spectrum of people Little Britain makes fun of. The prime minister, a mother that is obsessed with wanting to make her kid famous, a tiny theme tune enthusiast, racist conservative upper class ladies, a bad hypnotist, a crazy flute playing hotel keeper, a hypocritical grammar school teacher, a single man who bought a Thai bride on the internet… Little Britain makes fun of everyone, men, women, white, black, asian, gay, straight, rich, poor, old, teenage… Even though the jokes are very crude I don’t feel as if there is a particular group of people that is being attacked. But I do understand that the obscene and vulgar type of humour of this show isn’t for everyone.