Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taking The Reins Or How To Ride Smack The Pony

Taking a leaf out of the ancient theory of 'door kept open' for material, the largely credited, 'Smack The Pony,' did just that. Appealing to the most daring of new comedy writers, this brave sketch show embarked on a journey through the female psyche exposing her for all her foibles, faults and intimate thoughts. Reading through the long, endless list of material masterfuls, is a bit like running ones eyes down a school board of past Sports captains. With the idealists at the helm, 'Smack The Pony,' engaged the minds of the audience and endangered lives at Channel Four staff.
Where as female comedy writers had stepped into the safe zone of placing humour on the shoulders of fictional characters, the performers of the 'Pony' club threw themselves onto the fire for all to laugh at instead. Life had been a notably safe haven for the inspired writers at the Beeb when a certain Miss Victoria Wood had been on the throne. Casting a wise eye across the set we find the comfortable characters of Mrs Overall and Babs. Although these extraordinary women made us laugh, chortle, guffaw and generally titter at their outrageous and highly amusing scenarios, we still had yet to tread the unreliable waters of our own misgivings. In short - it was only the most sturdy of relationships that could survive an episode of 'Smack The Pony.' Yet, wait to be shocked; there were just as many male writers collaborating on this show as there were females…

Setting out on it's ambitious four year run, the show could only grow from strength to strength and judging by it's ratings, the spell was already working before the end of the first series. Writers Fiona Allen and Doon Mackichan teamed up with well established comedy actress, Sally Phillips to engage on their stripping of the mysterious female allure. Since these new comers were already attuned to the preciseness of what tight knitted observational humour should entail, they instantly knew how far to go. Obviously to the moon and back, was just simply not enough as their goal was not to shock, but to force the audience to laugh nervously.
Like most comedienne writers of the more recent generation, they have had to rely on a good old wrench up the ladder from someone more well established. Phillips, perhaps the innovator for Catherine Tate's style of humour, first found herself playing a brief role along the cracked path of Steve Coogan's 'Alan Partridge.' It was also here that Scot girl, Doon Mackichan made her acquaintance with modern humour in the factious chat show. From a slightly different angle, Allen found a great wealth of experience by taking on minor key roles in sketch shows including 'Goodness Gracious Me,' and 'The All Star Comedy Show.' The show was set to be a platform where these new age writers could simply vent off their diversities for half an hour each week. What actually transpired was to be and Emmy winning cult show from which now, future female writers consider to be one of the most important benchmarks in British comedy history.

What the trio of young talent gave us was an edgy feel to the way we appreciate sketch show comedy. Since the days of afore mentioned, Victoria Wood, the world had come a long way along the A road of observational humour. Where Wood had touched upon an area more inclined to be of a class breaking nature, Allen, Phillips and Mackichan shoved Wood into a 'Jean Brodie' Basque and set her out to dry. 'Smack The Pony,' had shudderingly dealt with the unspeakable, the inscrutable and the damn well shoved under the carpet. Whilst using the very title of the show as a slang term used in female masturbation, it was fairly obvious (or not to most of us) how far this type of unfelt comedy would intend to go.
After the first series, one could get a feel of the pattern that was being repeatedly used. As a loose tribute to the previous 'Not The Nine o'clock News,' the show would end with a mock up of a recent music style of anthem - a running ending snatched by many a comedy show which never fails to delight audiences. Another key slot was a quick firing video shot where the trio posed as women looking for dates - a video dating link in it's tackiest form. An idea originally conceived by Victoria Wood, in which she, along with other characters posed as members of the public venting a personal niggles on screen. Another link to this sort of 'on the street' one line humour was also given ground by university chums, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. In their show, they devised a series of one lines, thrown away by members of the public half way through their interviews. Effective and used to the hilt since Python, roots to any remedy of comic humour can usually be traced back to someone or show which appears totally unrelated. 'Smack The Pony,' was, in that sense, no different.

Touching on the very personal issues of what women seemingly experience from time to time, it was not primarily a show for female eyes only. One could almost hazard a guess that there were many a man watching through slatted blinds and frantically taking notes. A lot could be learned about a woman's mind through the eyes of some serial flaunting cheap gags on the fairer sex on Channel Four.
Something that sounds all too familiar on the channel that taste forgot, even so, 'Smack The Pony,' how ever it was taken, was undoubtedly a new turning point for female humour, shifting the pattern for female writers to delve more into the realms of comedy possibility.
Everything was out in the open for thirty minutes each week and the format of this well adjusted show in disguise certainly rolled around mischievously through the fields of modern unpredictability. We were subjected to skits dwelling on the dullness of parties, lousy sex and bad jobs. Each only showing us a few seconds of cringing time, these skits were loving crafted to reveal the truth behind the complexities of the female world. Some held our gaze through the masterful play on words in flittish dialogue, whilst others, silently step over our souls to stamp, whole heartedly on our pride. What other show made us howl like banshees on a thirty second skit of the extraordinary lengths a woman would go to park her car in an empty car park ? Gliding and dancing around each space not making up her mind until deciding on horizontally park across four spaces and walk away without a second glance - perfect visual and factual comedy.

Since the event of such factual genius, the road has laid bare over some considerable time. What seems to have taken shape since has been a reflection back to the good old days of fictional characters in general scenarios. A void seems to have been widened and the future of observational comedy in it's direct sense is a free for all.

Until then, we have guys in drag, wheelchairs and bondage to keep us amused, well, some of us, at least……

But, there is always Green Wing….

Written by
Fiona Allen
Doon Mackichan
Sally Phillips

sam1942 - mduffy 2009

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