Magazine article The Spectator

Comedy's Generation Gap

Magazine article The Spectator

Comedy's Generation Gap

Article excerpt

In the world of YouTube and Netflix, generations no longer share a culture

I was recently talking to an intelligent 24-year-old Cambridge graduate. The conversation turned to TV comedy, and I mentioned Vic Reeves. The graduate had never heard of him. Nor had she heard of Bob Mortimer. This would have surprised me, but it's happening a lot. Not Vic'n'Bob specifically -- anyone who was on TV more than five minutes ago. We now have the first generation to be culturally cut off from its elders.

Over the past couple of years I have met twenty-somethings who have never heard of The Two Ronnies , of Only Fools and Horses , who have never seen an episode of Alan Partridge . A friend encountered a mid-twenties graduate (also Cambridge) who loves University Challenge but had never heard of Bamber Gascoigne. Another has a colleague, in a senior backroom position, who had never heard of Smashie and Nicey.

This isn't an old fart despairing of young turks just because they're different. Every generation enjoys new stuff -- that's how it should be. 'Young blood must have its course, lad,' as Charles Kingsley tells us. The problem is that for the first time ever the youngsters don't know the context through which their blood is coursing.

When I was growing up in the 1980s I liked The Young Ones , Smith and Jones , Spitting Image . But I was aware of the stuff that had come before them. Sometimes the old timers made me laugh (Tony Hancock, Ronnie Barker), sometimes they didn't (Tommy Cooper, Harry Secombe). What counted, though, was that I knew they were there, had some sense of what they'd been like. It helped define the modern programmes more clearly, made you appreciate how revolutionary they were. Indeed The Young Ones spelled out that rebellion, in the scene where Vyvyan ripped through a screen showing the opening credits of The Good Life , complaining that it was 'so bloody NICE!' (For the record, I loved both The Young Ones and The Good Life .)

How has it happened? Why do those born in the 1990s know nothing, as the Spanish waiter they won't have heard of used to say? Simple -- theirs is the first generation that has never been able to count its TV channels on one hand. They choose from a billion programmes on a million channels -- or, increasingly, they shun channels altogether, consuming their content entirely on YouTube, hopping from one 'if you liked this. …

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