Popular comedy show Little Britain has more in common with Bernard Manning than the generation of subversive comedians who followed in his wake, according to a new academic work.
LSE researcher Deborah Finding’s study, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That: figuring gender and sexuality in Little Britain, forms the basis of a chapter in a new book of essays on the BBC show to be published next year.
Ms Finding applies a technique called figurative analysis to the comedy’s characters – showing how their physical traits are often projections of ‘nasty ideas’ rooted in fears about the working class, homosexuals or other less powerful groups.
For example, in laughing at Vicky Pollard – a fat, chain-smoking, single mother – we are expressing our fear and hatred of a group by projecting onto her stereotypical body the perceived qualities of all working-class single mothers – feckless, stupid and promiscuous.
Even Daffyd, the self-proclaimed ‘only gay in the village’, is a character who connects the idea of being homosexual with being ridiculous and therefore relies on ‘mainstream’ fears about gayness.
Ms Finding, a postgraduate researcher at LSE, said:
“Little Britain is the comedy equivalent of junk food. It is clear that when “we”, the audience, are invited to laugh at “them” the characters – we are laughing at not only the figures on screen but at entire groups of people whom they come to represent.
“Little Britain does far more to promote racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and classism than it does to satirise them – though it does do that from time to time.
“To claim that it is ironic is to miss the point that comedy constructed about “the other” – that which is different from us – involves the mocking of minority groups in a way that winds the clock back to the pre-alternative days of Bernard Manning.
“There is no attempt to challenge prejudices or disrupt the status quo.”
The American version of Little Britain introduced a host of outrageous new characters earlier this year but the response from US viewers was lukewarm.
David Walliams and Matt Lucas hoped their new characters would appeal to a new audience.