Sitcoms: are laugh out loud sitcoms extinct?

Or are sitcoms themselves a thing of the past?

Picture the scene: a stand-up comedian playing to a sell-out arena audience. Goes through a well-crafted, finely tuned set while the attentive audience sit and smile. Once or twice the sound of a chuckle can be heard emanating from the darkened auditorium. The set ends with the comedian exiting stage left, leaving the audience sighing contentedly, having been amused. We wouldn’t go to see a live set and not expect to laugh out loud. Nor should we.

A laugh out loud scene from The Vicar of Dibley

But, when it comes to sitcoms, it now seems that is what we viewers are expected to endure with a whole crop of current output. Time was when sitcoms had frequent laugh out loud moments. Who can forget Del Boy at the bar or with the chandelier, the Vicar of Dibley falling in the puddle, “Don’t tell him Pike”. There’s plenty more sitcoms that made us convulse with laughter. In these covid times, with so many people still living isolated lives, it is more important than ever that we laugh: not just smile but laugh out loud. It is after all a proven scientific fact that laughter relieves stress and improves health. So it’s important that we laugh aloud again, not just sit and smile, content that we have been amused for half an hour or so.

“Laughter relieves stress
and improves health.”

At the end of the day words, well delivered, can make us laugh aloud but action makes us laugh louder and longer. The films of Laurel and Hardy are as funny today as they were 90 years ago. Even today in sitcoms it is the slapstick moments that makes us laugh most.

“Have sitcoms evolved into dramedies”

Of course situation comedy, like everything else, evolves and develops but the laugh out loud sitcom appears to be extinct or at best on the endangered list. It has evolved into was has now been termed ‘dramedy’. Many are excellent but most rarely generate more than a smile. Articles on British and American comedygentle humour of comedy drama style show

Take Space Force (Netflix), Avenue 5 (Sky) or even the multi-award winning Fleabag. They are well written, well acted and well produced and yes they are funny, in parts, but not laugh out loud funny. Maybe the problem is that most are no longer ‘filmed in front of a live studio audience’. Perhaps therein lies the rub. Do we need the stimulus of live collective laughter in order to laugh audibly. Having said that, no laughter is better than blatantly dubbed laughter. Baked beans are okay in a can, but not laughter.

“Swearing is no substitute
for good writing.”

Another issue is that several of the current crop of comedies rely on the overuse of the F word and the C word to generate  laughter rather than well-crafted dialogue. 
Used for emphasis such words do have great comedic effect, we all use them, but, just as in everyday speech, they lose all power and point if used in every sentence or every other line of dialogue. Scientists seem to agree that swearing is a sign of intelligence and a wider vocabulary however when it comes to scripts, its overuse could be a symptom of indolent writing.  

Profanities were not needed to make Keeping Up Appearances, One Foot in The Grave or The Vicar of Dibley outstanding sitcoms. “For fuck sake hurry up Richard ”  would not have made Hyacinth funnier: “I don’t fucking believe it” would not have made us laugh louder at Victor’s incredulity at a Citreon CV being dumped in his skip overnight: “I’ve just trodden in something brown and it definitely wasn’t fucking chocolate cake” wouldn’t have made Owen’s predicament funnier.

Nor were expletives necessary in other acclaimed sitcoms such as Friends,  The Royale Family, Kumars at No42, Ab Fab, IT Crowd, Dinnerladies , the list goes on. So is there really any need for their overuse in Fleabag, After Life, Catastrophe and The Duchess for example? All of which would still be excellent comedies with fewer expletives and explicit sexual references.

Motherland, Back to Life, Starstruck and Back among several others have a pretty good balance and are still very funny, be they called sitcoms or dramedies.

As Bob Dylan wrote, ‘the times they are a-changin’. However not all change is necessarily for the better. Articles on British and American comedy

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