Comedy is crucial to how the English see themselves. This book considers that proposition through a series of case studies of popular English comedies and comedians in the twentieth century, ranging from the Carry On films to the work of Mike Leigh and contemporary sitcoms such as The Royle Family, and from George Formby to Alan Bennett and Roy 'Chubby' Brown.
Relating comic traditions to questions of class, gender, sexuality and geography, A National Joke looks at how comedy is a cultural thermometer, taking the temperature of its times. It asks why vulgarity has always delighted English audiences, why camp is such a strong thread in English humour, why class influences what we laugh at and why comedy has been so neglected in most theoretical writing about cultural identity. Part history and part polemic, it argues that the English urgently need to reflect on who they are, who they have been and who they might become, and insists that comedy offers a particularly illuminating location for undertaking those reflections.
'In A National Joke, Medhurst…uses comedy to pin down that most elusive of things, the English national identity.' The Guardian
'This is an excellent study of a popular comedy that links it into a variety of English cultural identities. Unusually for a book classified as cultural studies, it is clearly written, and by an author who enjoys humour… a splendid account' - The Times Higher Education
'Most of the best scholarly work on comedy in the UK that has appeared during the last 25 years has come from Medhurst… At last there is an engaging but serious study of what makes English comedy both English and funny.' - Critical Studies in Television
1. Introduction 2. Concerning Comedy 3. Notions of Nation 4. Englishnesses 5. Music Hall: Contours and Legacies 6. Our Gracious Queens: English Comedy’s Effeminate Tradition 7. Lads in Love: Gender and Togetherness in the Male Double Act 8. Thirty Nibbles at the Same Cherry: Why the 'Carry Ons' Carry On 9. Bermuda My Arse: Class, Culture and 'The Royle Family' 10. Anatomising England: Alan Bennett, Mike Leigh, Victoria Wood 11. Togetherness through Offensiveness: The Importance of Roy 'Chubby' Brown 12. Conclusion: A National Sense of Humour ?