How far is too far?
This is a question I will be asking more and more over the coming months.
“Not many people know it, but the Führer was a terrific dancer.”
In ‘The Producers’ the central plot regards the production of a pro-Nazi musical including full kick routine by SS Storm Troopers. The idea is that the show goes too far and the audience hate it making the show a flop. The producers can therefore pocket the excess cash as the show will make a loss BUT the show becomes a success and the audience sees the ‘difficult’ content as smart satire. The show highlights a very fine line. On one side of this line is satire gold on the other is death, a deep dark chasm of audience disgust and a great possibility of receiving hate mail or visits from a lawyer.
It is more than obvious that Runners will be treading this line.
This is not entirely unexpected and I think we are all whole heartedly embracing the opportunity to push the envelope, but in doing so, we run the risk of going too far. The problem I have is I am not sure what too far is and if I find I do know, will I have enough faith in my own judgement to commit?
What I do know is that writers who have pushed boundaries have not only courted controversy but have also connected to their audience and commented on society with great effectiveness. There are quite a few current writers who are masters of this particular tight rope.
Ricky Gervais writer of ‘The Office’, ‘Derek’, ‘Extras’ and ‘An idiot abroad’, he plays with comedy by pushing characters into social situations which highlight their weaknesses. He not only pushes boundaries to create satire but also handles cringe comedy giving characters a certain honest (and English) awkwardness with flare and commitment. He is bringing the character, David Brent, back to life for Comic Relief 2013. See the link below for details.
On a side note ‘Extras’ is the closest in setting, style and content to ‘Runners’ and we must check that we are not subconsciously re-hashing someone else’s work for both legal reasons and personal pride!
Matt Stone and Trey Parker push things further than Gervais and therefore court controversy a little more. They have produced and written ‘South Park’ the series, the film ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut’, ‘Team America: World Police’, and their musical ‘Book of Mormon’ has recently landed in the U.K having won 9 Tony Awards in 2011 for its run on Broadway. The content of their creations often make me think ‘should I be laughing at this?’ which is an unusual, wonderful reaction to have and they poke fun at things that are taboo which society will often not discuss in as much length as they should. They also deal heavily in juvenile humour e.g. the creation of Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo. Personally, I could leave the toilet humour but to make a game changer within the stereo-typed, often clichéd world of musical theatre is a fantastic achievement and I am dying to see ‘Book of Mormon’ after the queues and the prices have died down. See the link for the West End run of ‘Book of Mormon’ below.
Chris Morris is my favourite example. Intelligent, hard hitting and very funny, his work makes an audience laugh cringe and think in equal measure, a skill that is missing in a lot of our comedy which have become safe, stayed re-hashed material of previously created work. For those of you that know his work all I need say is Brass Eye. One of the most memorable moments was a section that focused on paedophilia, the mother of all difficult topics. It received complaint after complaint saying that the writer had trivialised a serious issue but the fact is he brought the relationship between the media and paedophilia into focus and the fun was poked at the media rather than the subject matter raising the question of whether the media’s reporting on the situation was of any benefit to society and whether the reporting could be more honest and helpful rather than scaremongering. His recent work includes ‘Four Lions’ dealing with terrorism in the U.K. Please see the link below.
So for the moment I am not sure where our ‘too far ‘ line will be, but I think I have to have the confidence to allow the creative team to find it and push some boundaries and comment on things in an intelligent and profitable manner. For the moment I will use the quote below from Kenneth Branagh as my rallying cry.
“I don’t know that there is too far, actually. I think there’s only too bad. If it’s bad you’ve gone too far.”
All the best,
Ellen Waghorn – Producer