Regular readers of this blog will be aware that pubs in the eternally down-at-heel and now maddeningly expensive Lambeth North neighbourhood of London are not one of our leitmotivs, but a recent cultural event an at upstairs bar surprisingly close to the locality’s eponymous Tube station has got our Creative Director & CSO thinking about the very structure of the United Kingdom’s entertainment industry.
Genre Claude Van Damme (‘GCVD’) is an improvisation collective with an SE1 residency who reference topics such as dating, movies and politics in their material. While that doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, the six protagonists are unusually good at what they do. In particular, they play off each other brilliantly; indeed, at various points in the performance, it was almost as if they had the chemistry of family members. And although comedy can be a ferociously subjective phenomenon, GCVD are indubitably blessed with the gifts of comic timing and charm: in other words, a lot of people will find them genuinely appealing.
But it was only on the way back to Waterloo that GCVD’s true significance began to hit home: we remembered that one of the grounds on which we have all but given up on Anglo-American television (and radio) is the paucity of quality in contemporary comedic offerings; there is a reason that Seinfeld, Friends and Only Fools and Horses remain alarmingly current touchstones. However, we definitely would not have taken this stance if something as funny as Genre Claude Van Damme had been in the listings: even with a schedule as losing-count-of-our-diaries busy as this company’s, we can imagine taking time out to catch it.
Which begs the question: what exactly are the talent scouts and persons charged with comedy development at the major media networks doing? Outside of the FIFA World Cup or a state wedding, television ratings are experiencing a long-term structural decline, partly because nothing new and iconic is coming through. In this sense, Genre Claude Van Damme are something of a litmus test – if you don’t see them on a far, far bigger stage within the next few years, you can rest assured that there is no helping our comedic civilisation.