Hey, so you know that moment eleven minutes or so into the first episode of How Not to Behave when in the middle of a bit about how annoying charity collectors are Gretel Killeen suddenly gave us a bunch of stats about how effective they are in collecting funds for charity? Um… what the hell was that about?
Not that the show had been a barrel of laughs up to that point, what with kicking things off with a quote from Winnie the Pooh and then going on to re-introduce us to former cast members from The Ronnie Johns Half Hour and Double the Fist. Because when your comedy show contains the line “let’s start with queuing”, it’s not like you need a top-level cast to sell the jokes to come.
Wait, did we say “jokes”? We meant to say “[incoherent strangled vomiting noise]”, because while the banter between hosts Killeen and Matt Okine was passable – in that it seemed at least slightly improvised and there was some rapport between them – the sketches themselves were about as funny as a pointless instructional video. Because that’s exactly what they were.
If you’re going to make comedy about queuing, maybe “cutting into a coffee shop queue is ok, cutting into a supermarket queue is not” should be the point you start with, not your punchline. Normally at this point we’d ramble on a whole lot more, because the show sure did: stats about queues! Wacky ways people queue in other countries! This is the first segment in the first episode of a 15-part series and they’ve decided to go with the queue material! Seriously, do they even want people to stick around for the rest of the episode, let alone the series?
But let’s cut short our ramblings for this week, because to our eyes the big problem with How Not to Behave was obvious: it’s not finished. Well, it was finished in terms of being an actual television show with opening and closing credits, but the comedy? Still got the scaffolding up.
What they’ve done here is collect a bunch of observations that they could base a handful of moderately funny sketches on – how to get into the fastest queue at a supermarket, ways to dodge charity muggers, people who are too protective (or not protective enough) of their personal space – and then just patiently explained the concepts to us. The result? This is a show based on the idea of explaining jokes.
Smarter people than us have explained that jokes work by presenting someone with first one idea then another and then allowing them to make the leap to connect those ideas. This didn’t just build a bridge between its ideas, it put the audience in the back of a bus and drove them over it at five miles an hour. Seriously, after the personal space prank stuff they even brought in an expert on personal space to explain the concept in depth. Remember how Monty Python followed up the Parrot Sketch by bringing on an expert in retail sales to explain the concept of customer service?
There are funny ways to talk about cinema etiquette. Simply describing behaviour and labelling it is not one of them. Worse, what little comedy there is in these moments relies entirely on recognition – the “joke” is that we go “ahh, I’ve been there”. So if the joke is that you’re telling people something THEY ALREADY KNOW, maybe you need to come up with a heightened framework that will make that information funny. Protip: simply explaining this information in a blandly generic style is not that framework.
Oh wait, sorry, we forgot it’s 2015. The whole point of this stuff isn’t to create something funny, it’s to create a short clip that can be shared online with a tagline like “Last night How Not to Behave totally nailed it when it comes to cinema armrest hogs.” Only no-one is going to be doing that, because these short clips were bland, dull, and stating the obvious in a totally unsurprising fashion.
Then again, this is the show that told us “There are serious rules for walking on the street”. If an idiot said that in a sitcom, you’d probably laugh; when it leads onto a segment that semi-seriously explains what those rules are, you’re fully entitled to look around to see if you’ve become part of some candid camera show.
Because what are the alternatives here? Either this is a comedy show that fails pretty much completely from the ground up, or it’s an educational show that really is trying to explain to people how to queue in supermarkets or walk down the street. Either it’s a show made by people that think calling someone who uses their mobile phone in a cinema “a glow worm” is funny, or it’s a show that thinks its audience doesn’t know how personal space works.
Either way, it’s doing a great job of insulting its audience.