Posted on 19.05.14 By Charlie Pickering

Mitchell & Webb Under the Linden Tree With Queen Victoria

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“So what did the sketch comedy show do a parody of? Was it a parody of Susan Boyle on X-Factor, or that new Tom Cruise movie?”
“Nah. It was a parody of the very foundations of Victorian England and how the entire paradigm could be undone by a simple diplomatic gift.”

Conventional wisdom would say that this sketch really shouldn’t work on TV for two diametrically opposed reasons.

Firstly, the idea is too ‘high-concept’. Targeting the inconsistencies between a society’s ultraconservative morals and human nature is all well and good in satire and happens all the time. But make that society Britain in the Nineteenth Century and make the two protagonists Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister, and all of a sudden this sketch is taking place in an atmosphere so rarefied that precisely zero people on the planet can actually relate to it. You know how sometimes when people hear a nice, relatable, observational gag, they’ll say through their laughter “it’s funny because it’s true!!”? That situation is impossible from the outset.

Secondly, it’s too vulgar. The word cum is said, at various volumes and with differing force no less than seven times in three minutes. That’s a ‘cum’ every 25 seconds. In some countries you’d be stoned to death before you finished the sketch, and on most television networks in the world an executive who has never successfully made anyone laugh in their life would have rejected the script on ‘tone’ grounds faster than you can organise a good stoning.

But when you ram those two things together, they completely cancel each other out. To the point where anyone can find this funny and you could just about watch this with your parents without feeling too awkward (although that really depends on who your parents are).

So it turns out that whether you’re accepting a gift from a dignitary, surviving Victorian society or writing sketch comedy, conventional wisdom ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And yes, it’s funny because it’s true.

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