One of my comedy highlights last year was BBC2 showing Vous Les Femmes, a French sketch show written and performed by Judith Siboni and Olivia Côte. Up to 30 quick-fire sketches are crammed into 30 minutes, and no fear if you dropped GCSE French due to the teacher's nicotine breath like me, there is very little language to contend with and few subtitles to read.
The humour is very visual and slapstick. If you like French women pulling faces and falling over, this is the show for you. It is as affectionate as it is silly; a giddy look at the life and trials of being women, especially those in their thirties. It was crossing the French-English border with such ease.
Then, as I sat there late night watching, as BBC2 renamed it, WOMEN (not Women, WOMEN), they appeared. They were totally nude. I mean totally. In a moment I became fully acquainted with these women's pubic hairstyle of choice. Suddenly The English Channel and the comedy gulf widened, probably to some light-year measurement only comprehensible to Prof Brian Cox. There was a crack, so to speak, between me and my new found Gallic comedy sisters.
It wasn't a one off, a few sketches sprung up between those where they fell down holes or broke wind, sketches in which they were sans clothes...in a way I haven't seen, nor can imagine, in British comedy because in their sketches the nudity is just the essence of some social faux pas or embarrassment. It is done unabashed and the butt, ironically, is not the butt of the joke but rather the situation. And so the woman on the beach desperately trying to change out of her swimwear with just a towel around her, drops the towel without a second thought to find her watch when asked the time by a passer-by, only to grab the towel afterwards when she remembers her awkwardness. For someone brought up on a British diet of Carry On and Up Pompeii it all felt a bit...foreign.
I cannot envisage a comedy sketch of this style appearing in a British show because it is not how we approach the human form. I mean, nudity is hilarious. If ever there were a compelling argument for an intelligent creator with a sense of humour, genitalia is it. But so often, British comedy's awkwardness and embarrassment of nakedness has become synonymous with shame and smut.
We British know boobs are funny, and usually funny in a schoolboy sniggering way well into adulthood. I mean boobs, just look at the word. I guarantee a fair number of you look at the word boob and see the Os as, well, boobs. If this were printed out it is scientific fact at least 50% of people would add nipples to Os. Of course, you may be one of the posher people who shuns boobs for bosoms, where I imagine the S represents a rather expensive necklace down the cleavage.
The 1960s and 1970s saw nudity in British comedy go from edgy to mainstream to there just for the sake of it. From phwoar, to you don't get many of them to the pound to here are some tits. And that has left a shadow and fear when we include nudity into comedy that we will be condemned as something worse than unfunny, sleazy. So we revert to nudging and winking and carefully placed Belgian Buns just to be sure.
More recent comedies to feature nudity have taken that route. 'Naked Man' in Smack the Pony would cause women to wilt into an Austen-like faint. And I for one wouldn't change that. There I have said it. I like the hint of smut and the sweet release of the after blush. Vous Les Femmes - our comedic approach to the birthday suit may be different but as long as we are all funny (and nude) vive le difference.
Horses for courses (but not lunch, we are British).
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