British dark comedy television and the bodily aesthetics of the ‘Proper person’

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Drawing upon Little Britain (BBC Three, 2003–2004; BBC 1, 2005–2006), Tittybangbang (BBC Three, 2005–2007), Psychoville (BBC 2, 2009–2011) and Tramadol Nights (Channel 4, 2010), this article discusses dark comedy television depictions of characters failing to measure up to contemporary ideals of capability and health; whose appearances, movements or physical integrity are affected by ageing, disability, illness or accident/violence. It argues that such portrayals reflect and perpetuate various perceptions and boundaries concerning the appearance of the ‘proper person’, relying upon such perceptions for the comedy to succeed. Certain appearances, forms and behaviours are naturalised and expressed in media, medical contexts and everyday discourse as ‘normal.’ Therefore, deviation from these can lead to particular groups or individuals being considered figuratively – or even literally – as in some way incomplete or not ‘proper people.’ That viewers are invited to laugh at these groups or individuals implies the characteristics are worthy of laughter, and that the ability to engage in this laughter may be assisted by a sense that the characters are not fully human. The article explores this in relation to the idea that dark comedies and their distinctive bodily aesthetics allow viewers to engage with, then dismiss, fears surrounding physical fragility and mortality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-75
Number of pages13
JournalComedy Studies
Issue number1
Early online date23 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Dark comedy
  • television
  • the body
  • grotesque
  • stigma
  • disability

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