"It was the most offended I've ever been by a Killer Whale story." Mrs. Trellis of North Wales

"I liked the video bit, that was quite good." J. Stephenson of Tucson, Arizona.

"Nope, never heard of it." Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Why Cowards Is at the Centre of the Comedy Universe...

Many of you will have seen Him & Her last night, the new bedsitcom from Stefan Golaszewski, the Alan Bennett of his generation (I will make that strapline catch on, mark my words). A beautifully observed study of two unemployed twentysomethings in their flat, it perfectly showcases what I rather pretentiously christened the 'Cowards School of Theatrical Comedy' (I know, I'm an arty arse, but Rick Edwards retweeted it, so I plan to spread this term for the current epoch of British comedy).

Stylistically, the Cowards School creates comedy from the juxtaposition of Mike Leigh-esque realism and the brilliantly absurd. This permeates the performance poetry of Tim Key, the songs of Tom Basden and the writing of both Stefan Golaszewski and Lloyd Woolf and its influence is spreading fast. More comparable with short plays than sitcom episodes or sketches (best observed in Him and Her and the beautiful The Caravan sketch involiving the lottery ticket from Cowards). The style is not limited to the quadrumvirate of Cowards however and encompasses the work of a wider selection of related comics/actors/filmmakers (though more often than not, the line can be followed back to Mssrs. Basden, Golaszewski, Key and Woolf) including Joe Wilkinson, Diane Morgan (now performing as sketch duo Two Episodes of MASH, their most recent show directed by Golaszewski) Alex Horne, Jonathan van Tulleken, Mark Watson, Jonny Sweet, Nick Mohammed, Rick Edwards and many more. Indeed Edwards' 'The Boot Sale', as featured in the Virgin Media Shorts shortlist, is another prime example of the style (starring Wilkinson, Morgan and Basden and directed by van Tulleken), with its bittersweet tale of man finding hard to let go (Further Reading/Listening: Key's 'All Bar Luke') .

Each project is a veritable 'six degrees of separation' that leads back to Cowards or one of its practitioners (see diagram A) and yet the BBC did not recommission the television programme of the troupe that started it all. We were given 3 brilliant episodes, but no more (though their two superlative radio series' are available as audiobooks ((which I never think is the correct term for this kind of thing really))). All four members are individually endeavouring to further the spread to great acclaim as well. Edinburgh award winner Key has a book and an vinyl album of his poetry available later this year, Basden's play 'Party', also adapted into a series for Radio 4 recieved highly favourable reviews and featured some very bright comedy talent (including the wonderful Jonny Sweet and Nick Mohammed), Golaszewski's plays (Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved and Stefan Golaszewski is a Widower) recieved huge plaudits and Him & Her deserves the same praise and, after a break to focus on writing and acting, Woolf is returning to his highly original stand-up.

I have been challenged on my comment regard Golaszewski as 'the Bennett of his generation', but I find it a perfectly valid comparison. Both portray brilliantly observed characters laid bare, for all their failings and strike a careful balance between pointed, witty humour and pathos. While the language and voice may differ, the ideas conveyed and the methodology are far more similar than one may imagine from a superficial glance.

A quick study into my earlier claim (note that not all potential permutations and links are included ((lazy, not enough paper etc.)))

So, here's to Him & Her, to Golaszewski and to the Cowards School of Theatrical comedy. Long may it grace ours screens/radios/stages.


  1. This reminded me of something I came across at the frienge. I can't remember if I heard it, or read it or even who it was about; but someone described someone else as being from the "Key, Horne, Watson school of comedy". Which made me stupidly happy.

  2. You've outdone yourself, sir. One of the best blogs i've have ever read. Seriously.

  3. Thanks. One of the best comments I've ever read, even if I do say so myself...

  4. Excellent, and interesting piece.

    I think people may object to the comparison between Golaszewski and Bennett because (as people often do when dissing comparisons) they erroneously compare Bennett NOW to Golaszewski NOW (rather than Golaszewski now to Bennett in his twenties). I think it's perfectly valid comparison and reckon that many of those comedians who are part of this school are already national treasures as Bennett is.