TV comedy: What are you laughing at?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

No subject seems taboo for increasingly edgy television comedies – except perhaps the Holocaust

Take a little racism, throw in a dash of homophobia – definitely do not touch the Holocaust – and finish off with a sprinkle of incest. Voila: you have the perfect dark comedy.

TV sitcom audiences' appetite for edgy material has the programme-makers relentlessly pushing against the boundaries of taste and decency. So Derek, about a nursing home carer with an apparently undiagnosed condition, and Way to Go, about assisted suicide, are to be followed by even more frantic attempts to offend with dwarfist jokes when Life Is Short returns in coming weeks.

Writers defend their scripts by claiming they raise tricky subjects that otherwise would not be covered, but others say that they offend people who often cannot defend themselves.

Since the 1970s in Till Death Us Do Part – Johnny Speight's scripts got people laughing at, not with, the racist and xenophobic East End dock worker Alf Garnett – we have become ever more used to shock comedy.

But as we become more inured to what used to be unbroadcastable, sitcoms have had to mine ever deeper and darker seams. So where next for the sitcom – disabled sex, slavery, child abuse? Are there any areas that comedy still cannot tackle?

Yes, the Holocaust. Heil Honey, I'm Home! centred on the premise that Adolf Hitler could not get along with his Jewish neighbours. It was cancelled after just one show.

But Charlie Chaplin and others have managed to mock the Nazi leader without offending, so it is just a matter of time before someone, somewhere tries it again.

Nazism

Heil Honey, I'm Home!, 1990

Cancelled after one episode (only the pilot was screened on the now-defunct satellite channel Galaxy), the show portrayed Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living next door to a Jewish couple, Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, and centred on Hitler's inability to get along with his neighbours.

Quote: "I'm a very, very, naughty Hitler."

Alcoholism

Absolutely Fabulous, 1993-2004

The series followed Patsy and Edina as middle-aged women who refuse to let go of the party lifestyle that they conduct in a public relations bubble.

Quote: Patsy: "The last mosquito that bit me had to book into the Betty Ford Clinic."

Racism

Till Death Us Do Part, 1965-75

The show centres on working-class racist Alf Garnett.

Quote: (Speaking to "Paddy-Paki") "If it wasn't for the colour you wouldn't know the difference."

Disability

Derek, 2012 onwards

Derek is a care-home assistant who, his creator Ricky Gervais insists, should provoke sympathy, but others have perceived the show as making cheap jibes at the disabled and mocking those unable to defend themselves.

Quote: Derek: "I hate it when anyone dies; they are always dying because they are old."

Parkinson's

Untitled, 2013

To be aired later this year by NBC in the US, the untitled show will feature Michael J Fox – who has Parkinson's – as a husband and father of three from New York City who is dealing with family and career challenges.

Benefits cheating

Shameless, 2004-13

Critics said its depiction of the working class on an estate was crass.

Quote: "Get your stuff out quick, otherwise he'll have your stereo in his veins before you can say Dolby surround sound."

Dementia

Waiting for God, 1990-94

Set in a fictional retirement home in Bournemouth, it focused on Diana Trent and her relationship with Tom Ballard, who has semi-feigned dementia.

Quotes: Tom: "Well, that's cheating, Jane. You can't rise from the dead if you haven't died."

Neglect

Getting On, 2009 onwards

The show, set in the geriatric ward of a hospital, deals with issues in the NHS including lack of beds and communicating with non-English speakers.

Quote: "What do you mean they don't have any relatives? She didn't arrive from under a gooseberry bush." "She was found under a flyover."

Incest

Arrested Development, 2003-06

Broadcast on Fox in the US, the programme revolved around the members of the Bluth family and had incestuous undertones. In one episode two characters who are cousins kiss. They later find they are not blood relatives as one of their mothers was adopted.

Quote: "I was an analyst and a therapist: the world's first 'analrapist'."

Homophobia

The New Normal, 2012

Shown in the US, the show follows a gay couple in LA trying to have a baby. The couple meet a single mother who agrees to be their surrogate before her conservative grandmother tries to thwart their plans.

Quote: "The only thing I ever got from church was a lifelong complex about inferior abs. You stare at Jesus throughout puberty. That guy was ripped."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories