Having recently finished watching Chris Morris’s bizarre quasi comedy-slash-surrealist nightmare, I find myself wetting the bed more frequently. For those not in the know, Jam was a darkly disturbing channel 4 sketch show from 2000 in which every conceivable taboo is confronted in ever shocking and absurdist ways. Though I still find myself struggling to decide if Jam is a groundbreaking piece of horror comedy or pretentiously vulgar, there’s no denying that I find it utterly fascinating.
Unlike his previous efforts, Morris seems less interested with delivering punch lines than subverting our most basic understanding of how we define humour. Though undoubtedly strange, both The Day Today and Brass Eye were clear in their objectives: to make people laugh. Jam on the other hand virtually abandons any semblance of a traditional sketch, trading structure for long drawn out sequences intended to amuse not by the incongruity of the set-up and the punchline but by the content as a whole.
Okay, so far, so surreal, but the way in which Morris tells his “jokes” may suggest that this isn’t actually a comedy at all. Though the odd scene may trigger a smirk, to describe the program as anything even remotely close to hilarious would be hyperbole of the highest degree. Personally speaking, I found myself smiling more out of fear and confusion than a genuine feeling of well-being. And well-being is something of which Jam is in short supply. Even the most mundane pieces that manage to sidestep controversy (which are few!) still manage to invoke in the viewer at best an attack of deep sadness, at worst an almost physical revulsion. The scenes blend into one another with hypnotic ease, as all the while an ambient soundtrack coupled with dutch tilt camera angles and the like unsettle the audience to ever more insidious depths.
Yet the question remains, what is the real aim here? Is it to demonstrate that certain subjects, such as rape, incest and abortion have no place in the world of comedy? If so, it would hardly be a fair hearing, considering how needlessly excessive the skits are in delivering the goods, which often have at their core a very simple idea that is unnecessarily twisted into something terrifying. Is it an analysis of insanity? A Kafkaesque look at how utterly peculiar the modern world really is? Perhaps it’s challenging us to think about comedy in new ways? To learn a new code in joke-telling? Or maybe it’s nothing more than a blank canvas, a postmodern celebration of nothingness from which we are invited to make our own interpretations. Indeed it could be just another piece of avant garde detritus trying to be profound by daring to broach difficult subjects. It’s certainly a convincing interpretation, but somehow likely the wrong one. There’s something self-assured about Jam and so consistent that it feels far too simplistic merely to categorise it as shock entertainment. It goes far deeper than that. Or maybe that’s just what they want you to think...