Another addition to my list of “DVDs you probably shouldn’t watch just before bedtime” is Chris Morris’s Jam, which began on Radio4, before being transferred to TV. To be honest, it was probably more disturbing when it was a radio series, because when you’ve got the lights off and you’re just lying there in the darkness, letting a stream of ambient, absurdist horror wash through your brain, the images are far, far better/worse than anything the TV can throw at you. They tried their best to make it look less like a sketch show and more like a concussed, drug-induced nightmare, with grainy camera-work, slurred speech and other reality-distorting FX… but underneath all that there’s still something comforting about the familiar faces of the cast. In fact, the inclusion of Kevin Eldon, Mark Heap, Amelia Bullmore and Julia Davis almost makes it seem like another series of Big Train… albeit one transmitted from a hell-dimension. Obviously it is not to be recommended for the easily shocked, offended or befuddled, but for those who enjoy getting their minds blown from time to time, it’s quite a trip. Very “strong meat”, as they say, but sadly the servings are rather small… only six episodes were ever produced, and they clock in at a meagre twenty minutes each. Two unused “practice” skits are hidden amongst the extras on the disc though, and they’re well worth seeing. Rather endearingly, Morris also chose to include a dead-on parody of Jam, which appeared as part of the far more family-friendly Adam & Joe Show around the same time. Although no doubt well-intentioned, their pastiche does rather take the edge off the original series, by making merciless mock of it… certainly you’ll never look at “spunk coffins” the same way again!
Bullmore does some great work, grounding the weirdness with her raw and real performances… and considering how many actresses refuse to do nude scenes even for serious Oscar-bait movies, you have to respect the commitment of a thesp who’d go topless for the sake of a TV sketch about buying a house from a pervert demanding sexual favours in return for a reduction of the asking price. But while Bullmore tends to play quite smart, sad or straight characters, the real crazy chicks are left to Davis. One of her stand-out sketches introduces us to Lucy, who is first seen innocuously eating a plate of pasta in her flat, while her plodding voiceover slowly tips us off to the mayhem that’s about to ensue: “I’ve, erm, always been quite a lonely sort of person. I find it hard to start conversations with people. I just imagine they’ll find me boring. But of course, people never find you boring if they need help. So I’ve started to make people need help.” What follows is an escalating series of attention-grabbing “pranks”, designed to break the ice with random people… although even then, she has a bit of trouble getting them to engage in polite small talk, as they’re desperately pleading with her to unglue their hand from the car door. Eep!
Davis is quite a dicey woman to have a crush on really, because every time she plays a sexual or seductive character, they also tend to be deeply sadistic or sociopathic… a prime example being the Jam sketch where she asks poor Kevin Eldon to “examine” her breast for lumps, then warns him that the more he touches her, the more she’ll have to hurt him in retaliation (even though he’s theoretically doing her a favour). It’s impressive how she manages to maintain her flirtatious allure, even when she’s saying scary things like “I’ll have to use my fist next time”. Davis, of course, is also a well-respected writer in her own right, having created (or co-created) the cult “dark-coms” Human Remains and Nighty Night, both of which seem to take place in an adjacent purgatory to Jam’s.
During his “one-man show”, This Filthy World, John Waters asserts that even in this day and age, it’s so easy to shock people, that to win his seal of approval at least, you need to have a political or philosophical point to make via the scandal you stoke up. In the case of Morris and Davis (and their co-writers), I think they’re writing the sort of comedy that they themselves are drawn to… it’s an honest case of very clever, but slightly twisted people amusing themselves, rather than simply offending the general public for giggles… but they’re also trying to find “new” jokes, or “new” ways of making people laugh. Assuming that’s possible. I vaguely recall reading an interview with Sarah Silverman, where she claimed that she wasn’t trying to “offend” her audience… just “surprise” them! Whether there’s any psychological or spiritual benefit to be gained from writers retreating into these darker recesses, to prod out at their audience’s sore spots, I don’t know. I still haven’t had time to read my Idiot’s Guide to Carl Jung yet… but the general gist of Taoism and Buddhism seems to be that one can only truly be happy when one learns to accept, or at least acknowledge, the cycle of ugliness and pain that is visited upon us all in life… and that this acceptance is a crucial step towards transcendence. Not that everyone who watches Jam or Nighty Night is likely to achieve instant Enlightenment, I know… but it’s worth a shot, right?