Hands Up, Who Likes Me?: Chris Morris and the Subversive Comedy of Brass Eye

In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: Brass Eye.

Chris Morris is one of the U.K.’s absolute best, brightest, weirdest and most darkly hilarious comedic impresarios. He’s responsible for some of the greatest comedy to come out of Britain over the past 10 plus years.

Recently, he’s gotten a (relatively) lot of press for his feature film writing/directing debut, Four Lions, which follows the misadventures of a radical Islamic terrorist cell in London. And it’s a comedy.

Trailer for Four Lions:

That should tell you a bit about Morris’s sensibility.

But Mr. Morris began his career in television, and he is responsible for some of my most favorite programs of all time, including JAM and Nathan Barley (both of which I will cover in future installments). But my first exposure to Morris came in the form of his faux documentary news program, Brass Eye.

Building off the success of his earlier satirical news programs, The Day Today and On the Hour, Brass Eye focused on the kinds of sensational human interest stories you might find on 20/20 or Dateline NBC, but with a surreal bent.

Often, in a pre-Ali G prank style, Morris would trick politicians, celebrities and other public figures into making statements about fake charities, or made-up dangers to society. My favorite being Cake, the fictional drug that was supposedly destroying the youth of Britain. Morris even tricked a conservative parliament member to tape an anti-cake video, and he even mentioned it on the floor of Parliament itself.

I really can’t recommend any of Morris’s shows more highly. He’s a personal hero, and someone who has done more for alt comedy than most anyone in recent history. When I was first starting out in comedy, Brass Eye was one of those shows that was passed down to me by the older comedians in my scene as an example of what they found funny. It had a profound effect.

So, now, I pass it along to any and all who haven’t seen it yet. Brass Eye…absolute, subversive genius. Oh, and when watching, keep an eye out for a then relatively unheard of Simon Pegg in the cast.

Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.

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