Last week’s bargain bin browsing turned up the second series of Little Miss Jocelyn on DVD for only one English pound. Hurrah? Well, no, not really. It is a historic achievement in TV terms, being the first time that a black woman has been given her own solo comedy sketch show… but that doesn’t mean that I have to laugh. Humour is subjective, we all know that… and I’ve never been a fan of the shouty, grotesque, catchphrase-heavy school of comedy (Catherine Tate, Little Britain, et al.), so I was never likely to love it… but throw in the “hidden camera” segments involving random members of the public, which always make me clench with embarrassment, and it becomes nothing but a torturous cacophony to me. As a “politically correct” lefty type, I also find it kinda derogatory towards black women… which sounds odd I know, but I’ll try to explain.
The problem, as I see it, is that the eponymous Jocelyn Jee Eisen is generally the only one who gets to play a comedy character, while everyone else is consigned to “straight man” status… and since, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, she usually only allows one other black person to share the screen with her at a time, this means that every sketch seems to feature her playing a crazy, sadistic, or stupid black person, surrounded by sane, reasonable, sensible white folk. I’ve read some user-reviews which praise Eisen for “making fun of her own kind” (as it were), but that isn’t strictly true, since she was born and raised in London, while many of her characters are wacky immigrants with broad accents. If I told you that there was a modern comedy show that featured an African “savage” with her teeth filed into razor-sharp points, carrying a spear and joking about eating babies, with animal snarls on the audio every time she sneers… well, that’s pretty old school, right? And the jokes are so broad, it doesn’t seem as if she’s really dissecting, or ironically commenting on the grossness of it, so much as revelling in the chance to play such an outrageous grotesque. It reminds me of the time Mel B (of “Spice Girls” fame) appeared on a show called Black Britain, and the interviewer asked her about the racialist connotations of dressing in animal print clothes and playing up to a “scary” stereotype for a predominantly white audience… her response was a dull-eyed, “Oh… I didn’t think of that”. Gah! It is, of course, entirely possible that I’m just over-sensitive to this sort of thing… but I can’t help comparing the show to Goodness Gracious Me, which displayed far more intelligence and awareness when it came to the complex issues of national and ethnic identity, and the clashes that can occur between the two. Obviously, it’s healthy for people to be able to laugh at themselves… but when a member of an ethnic minority keeps making such aggressively masochistic, “minstrel show”-esque jokes, I think it’s edging us back towards unhealthy again.
But I knew all that going in, so why buy it at all? Well, because of Dominique Moore, the young woman depicted in the doodle above, of course. Despite having a comedy career as long as your arm (and much longer than Eisen’s, in fact), this is one of the few shows she’s been involved in that has actually made it to DVD… and as it is, she only appears briefly in two sketches. Either by choice, or simply because she looks so darn cute, Moore has spent much of her career thus far working in fairly disposable children’s television. True, she’s only in her mid-twenties, but she can’t keep playing teenagers forever, can she? There have been a few stabs at post-watershed programming, mostly as part of an ensemble, but for some reason she still hasn’t been given a suitable starring vehicle which would really allow her to show her stuff. While her performances are always top-notch, the shows themselves don’t always seem to deserve her. I mean, she’s even sung the theme tune for three of them! What more could you ask from a lead? It’s sad to see her going to waste as a supporting player… but if I got paid a pound every time I said that about a performer I liked, I’d be rich by now. Rich enough to cast them all in a film of my own devising? No, not quite that rich, unfortunately.