Little Britain

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Little Britain

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

I know a guy who went to Paris and spent most of his time there watching German television off the satellite. He flew into Paris, checked into the hotel, napped, showered, and as he was dressing to go out, turned on the TV and started flipping through the channels -- you know, as one does -- and suddenly caught a few seconds of what looked like a German talk show with a host doing a weird German version of David Letterman -- same vocal intonation, same staccato laugh, same sing-songy repetition of key comic phrases -- except in German.

He was mesmerized, and spent a large portion of his time in Paris watching German TV on a TV set. Which was in a $600 a night hotel room. So, obviously, priorities are a problem there.

But there is something attractive about TV shows that are broadcast in a language you can't understand. Years ago, when I was traveling through Central Asia -- don't ask -- and I had a couple of days in Ashgabhat, the capital of Turkmenistan -- again, don't ask -- I spent a day or two holed up in my hotel room -- that I'll tell you: two words: intestinal distress -- and I spent the whole time (well, most of the time) surfing and clicking through the channels on Turkmenistan television.

There were two. One was devoted to broadcasting the previous day's activities of the tyrannical, megalomaniacal despot who runs the country, and the other was devoted to broadcasting that day's activities of the tyrannical, megalomaniacal despot who runs the country. Meaning, one channel is new stuff; the other channel is a rerun. Kind of like here.

And on the bottom right of the screen, where American networks put that annoying logo, or "bug" they call it, in Turkmenistan they put the heroic profile of the tyrannical megalomaniacal despot.

So that's global television. But it occurs to me, as I think about my next big career move, that global TV is kind of an interesting place --- except, obviously, in Turkmenistan. And Germany. -- Some of our biggest hits come from the UK, where I spent a few weeks recently. There I saw a show called Little Britain, which is a hilarious, over-the-top sketch show starring two immensely talented, nimble comic players -- who hit all of the high points of British comedy: class envy, bitter insult, drag, and incontinence. FCC rules, I think, prohibit me from describing too specifically the sketch about the older woman with spectacular, cascading lack of bladder control, but suffice it to say -- really, really British. It's on BBC America, which a lot of us get right now, so catching it is a lot cheaper than my friend's technique of flying to Paris and barricading yourself in a hotel room. Little Britain is the kind of show that would be great to replicate here in the US -- I think it could be pretty funny -- but as we all know, comedy is hard to translate. I explained this to my UK hosts at a dinner with the BBC by saying that although Little Britain is screamingly funny, it's also screamingly British, what with the toilet humor and the graphic vomiting and the men in dresses thing. You know, British comedy, all sort of the same. To which the BBC guys bristled and replied that, to them, all American comedy is the same. To which I agreed, in the spirit of friendship. To which they acquiesced, then broadened the gloom, as the British will, by saying something like, "Everything on the bloody television is absolutely rubbish everywhere." Which was when I told them about Turkmenistan Television, and the two channels, one a perpetual repeat of the other. We all thought about that for a bit, had a sip or two of wine, and then agreed that, you gotta hand it to the tyrannical, megalomaniacal despot who runs Turkmenistan -- his TV may be boring and repetitious, but at least he's honest about it.

That's it for this week. Next week, we wonder who's going to get fired. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long