that’s numberwang

It’s kind of odd to be spending these Count-Dracula-worthy-oceans-of time (oh, come on, you were thinking it, too) thinking very seriously and for hours on end about stuff that isn’t compartmentalized as being legitimately ‘academic.’ That is to say, I’m still trying to understand things according to an elitist but quasi-thorough intellectual approach, but applying this process of thinking not to solving the quandary of what constitutes modern sovereignty and subjectivity, and instead stuff along the lines of–

Why is the US tradition of sketch humor so marginal rather than mainstream compared to that of the UK? Why do conceptions of Jewishness and difference form such a central trope in American humor? I wonder what Bernie Sahlins would have to say about all this? Why are their sitcoms the kind of things you have to watch like a slasher film, peeking trepidatiously through your fingers as some untold horror unfolds in front of you? How is it that a full two minutes of this sketch show are devoted to a complicated bet  between Betrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, culminating in a 600 page book of formal logic which then turns out to be the origins of Numberwang?* Why don’t we have a staunch tradition of  radio comedy?** Or any other form of radio that doesn’t have to be subsidized by quarterly bouts of desperate pleading for funding?***

I happened upon a review by someone who is, no doubt, a proper television critic saying what I’ve been trying to spit out in sentence form but can’t seem to articulate in a coherent way.

Upholding a Fine Tradition of British Sketch Humor

Mitchell and Webb write all their own material, and the show rarely lags or feels padded or forced (though, as in all sketch shows, some flat-out miss – and some may miss on these shores because they’re too British). Mostly, the duo are impressively ingenious at being silly or archly ironic or painfully blunt. Of course, rampaging silliness seems to be a British hallmark. In one sketch, two hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age lament the coming of the Bronze Age. They’re annoyed by Bronze Orientation Day and a Bronze salesman who says that “Bronze is brilliant! … Bronze is user friendly, multipurpose, exciting, zeitgeisty and most importantly, it’s slightly shiny.” You can see the “Monty Python” in there.

Tim Goodman

I had wanted to attach mp3s (and if you do come across it, the “Middle Earth Dinner Party” from series one of That Mitchell and Webb Sound is just pure genius). I think I may have been to that selfsame dinner party, or at least mingled with those folks at a wine-and-cheese event. In fact, I’m pretty sure those hobbits moonlight as assistant faculty at a second-tier liberal arts college somewhere. (Ooh. Burn!)

I did track down a definitely playable in the U.S. snippet from NPR’s Weekend Edition. NPR Mitchell & Webb interview. It’s marginally painful to listen to, but probably worth it for the clips. Also, you get exchanges like these:

Mr. MITCHELL: Yes, well the show that’s coming out of BBC America started as a radio show called “That Mitchell and Webb Sound.” I think radio’s a brilliant medium for comedy, ’cause apart from anything else you can set the sketches anywhere and it has no sort of budgetary issues.

Mr. WEBB: All the comedy you otherwise couldn’t afford.

SIMON: But there are really some lovely visual bits in what you do. I’m thinking of the man who can move biscuits with his mind.

Mr. MITCHELL: Well, we were sort of very excited with that, because that was one of the few sketches that actually had a special effect.

Mr. WEBB: An actual special effect. It’s like he’s got the force, but it only applies to biscuits.

SIMON: The biscuits fly through the air.

Mr. MITCHELL: I believe you usually call them cookies.

Doing linguistic stuff I never thought about it so much before, but, wow, words on the page are nothing compared to spoken ones, huh?

I mean, I think this clip pretty much sums up everything wonderful about the show.**** NSFW, howevs.

*Beyond my verbal capacity to explain.

**Something something nation-state boundaries and difference are mutually constitutive and standardizing homogenity by way of first-person-plural-pronouns. Jesus. I GET IT.

***I’m sure there’s something to be said here about evangelical proselytizing radio as a uniquely American form, and that’s all well and good. But if this is the major genre that we have given to the world, please let me apologize. Because, barf.

****Also, friends from the South, back me up on this one. Shit be stinkin’.


One response to “that’s numberwang

  1. i’m wondering if our heavy exposure to southern fried religion radio somehow made us like british comedy that much more…ya know, we’re already primed for the most extreme and outlandish version of something, whether it be inappropriate jokes or jesus?