When I was a lad, all comedy was double entendre. All of it. Every single aspect of British culture had been fed through a Carry On filter, Donald McGillised and nudge nudged with a wink wink. If you didn’t have a double entendre, as the old joke goes, you could ask someone to give you one. There just wasn’t any comedy without sexual content. Even the Goons had a character called Hugh Jampton. And by the 1970s, things had gone mad. My memory of, say, Are You Being Served? is of a gay man fondly reminiscing about all the men he’d done it with, while in the corner a pink-haired woman screamed lies about her vagina. It was all a bit much, and to be honest I was quite relieved when Ben Elton came along and put us all off sex.
But it wasn’t about having sex. It was about not having sex. Frustration, impotence, failure and thwarted desire, the four impotent horsemen of the comedy apocalypse. Sex and comedy have always been (all together now) strange bedfellows. There isn’t a play called Fuck Us A Lot, We’re British. Part of this is because of censorship, part of this because a lot of comedy is written by public school boys who can’t even talk to women, let alone write them and part of it… It’s like before the death of Princess Diana we thought sex and comedy were separate for ever, like Poland and Jupiter. But since the discovery of British emotion in 1997, our emotions have flowed from an unstoppable tape and we have been unable to stop playing with our spigots.
Yet we’re still not comfy with sex comedy. It’s not PC – these days comics black up or pretend to be disabled or express a shameful hatred of women and nobody bats an eyelid as these turds get their own shows on the telly. PC hasn’t existed in comedy for years. But what’s odd is – well, look at an American comedy film. Nudity, bodily fluids, sex, and gross out references to woman abound. Look at a British one. Nothing. Someone might trip over, but British comedy films – with all that scope for knockers and slapstick – don’t do anything rude. Even The Inbetweeners Movie, with a few references to sex and nudity, was essentially a remake of – ironically – enough – the movie of Are You Being Served (“Would you like it English or Continental style, Mrs Slocombe?” “You’re a man of the world, Captain Peacock, you decide.”) The Inbetweeners Movie was touted as a rudathon but it’s actually a warm and sweet film about innocence.
So who knows? Maybe as a nation we’re just embarrassed about sex. And in the end, what’s funnier – being embarrassed about sex or not being embarrassed? Eh? Eh?