The Comedy Embassy
Welcome to the comedy embassy.
This embassy was originally built in the 1920s when the British Empire was at its height. Back then, the city was known as ‘Comedyville', and it hosted many renowned English comics, such as George Formby, Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
The embassy remained a hub for comedy for many years, and today it continues that tradition, attracting comedians from all over the world and fostering a creative comedy community.
Whether you're a fan of traditional comedy or more of a modern day satirist, this embassy offers something for everyone.
The embassy began in earnest as a hub for traditional English comedy. It was originally established as an escape from the increasing political tensions that gripped post-World War I England. The embassy drew in many of the biggest names in British comedy at the time, who were keen to escape the public eye and indulge in some private jokesters' paradise.
Traditional English comedy typically revolves around the characters of the ‘Old English gentlemen', who are often very dim. These gentlemen are frequently plagued by disastrous dates with beautiful women, which end in tears and humiliation for the hapless lovers.
Humour in these dramas is often bleak and frequently sarcastic, and the situations are often absurd. The comedies of Jeeves, in particular, are incredibly similar to the archetypal ‘Old English gentleman'. Traditional English comedies are, at their core, a battle of wits between the lead and his companion as they compete for the lady's attention, exposing their feeble intellects in a desperate attempt to impress her.
Although these films are often humorous, there is a dark undertone to many of them. The majority of traditional English comedies were written by and are directed towards an English audience, and many of the films were inspired by true events. This humour is often more bitter than sweet and highlights the darker currents swirling around post-World War I England.
The golden age of traditional English comedy came to an end in the 1930s with the arrival of the ‘New Wave' of British comedy. These comedies are sometimes referred to as ‘Modern Comedies', as they eschewed the old traditions in favour of a more ‘modern' take on comedy.
These comedy films are often satirical in nature, poking fun at social issues and various other targets, particularly contemporary figures. The films often feature younger comedians, who would later become famous, such as Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. Other famous comedians of the period include Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
The satire is often broad-based and often takes the form of political commentary, as the country experienced a degree of political instability during the 1930s. These comedies are all the more interesting as a result of this political backdrop, as the films often comment on contemporary politics and government in an effort to highlight issues that concerned the audience at the time.
As with traditional English comedy, humour in these films is black, with the lead frequently making scathing observations about contemporary culture and society. One of the most famous satirical films of this period is V for Vendetta (published in 1981), which mocks authority figures and big business in general. The film also features Peter Sellers, the archetypal ‘bad boy' of the silver screen, as a cartoonish dictator.
The golden era of English satire continued with the expansion of British overseas settlements. As the empire began to shrink, so did the need for good, clean English comedy. The majority of British comedians now turned their attention to overseas adventures and established comedy embassies around the world. The most well-known examples of this phenomenon are Peter O'Toole (who, along with Sellers, was one of the founders of the embassy) and Monty Wooley (the ‘pioneer' of international comedy).
The first comedy embassy was opened in Istanbul in 1922, and it was followed quickly by others, opening in Madrid, Argentina and other major world cities. These cities were convenient for the expansion of humour into new markets, as it was often difficult for British comedians to find work in their home country. The majority of these comedies are now considered ‘classics' of world cinema. They are frequently cited as examples of good comedy writing, and many of them still attract large audiences overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States.
One of the most interesting aspects of the comedy embassy is its role in the development of modern comedy. It was originally established as a safe space for British comedians to share their work and develop new projects. Many famous English comedies were written partially or entirely in its studios – including Jeeves, which is considered to be among the very best films ever made. It also provided a creative outlet for established comedians, enabling them to develop new characters and story lines.
The comedy universe is a small one, and the inhabitants of this little comedy town are constantly trading ideas and collaborating on new projects. English comedy is often imitated, but rarely duplicated, and this creative community is responsible for many enduring images and iconic characters.
Comedy has always been a creative outlet for many, and the 21st century has seen the creation of many comedy festivals, such as the Edinburgh Festival and the Just for Laughs in Canada. As well as attracting international tourists, these festivals have served as a launchpad for many British comedians and enabled them to build their reputations as international stars.
Future of Comedy
This is a history lesson, but it's also important to note that English comedy did not die with the golden age of the ‘Old English gentlemen'. The comedy tradition continued, and is still very much alive and well, even outperforming the traditional dramas in terms of box office returns. The English-speaking world now has countless platforms available for comedic content, such as stand-up comedy and web comedy, which was virtually non-existent in the pre-digital era.
The future of English comedy looks incredibly promising, as this nation is still regarded as the birthplace of comedy, and many consider it to be the greatest comedy nation of all time. The English definitely know how to laugh – often at the most inappropriate times – and their sense of humour will never be lost.