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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 08:07 GMT
Gervais leads UK comedy push

By Chris Heard
BBC News Online

Ricky Gervais and his sitcom The Office won two shock awards at the prestigious Golden Globes in the US on Sunday, heralding talk of a British comedy invasion.

Gervais made history by becoming the first British actor to win a TV comedy acting award at the Globes.
Ricky Gervais
Gervais could be adding a major US award to his Baftas

At the same time his comic masterpiece The Office became the first non-US series to win the best comedy programme category.

Gervais had faced tough competition in Hollywood, most notably in the shape of Friends star Matt LeBlanc.

The Office, which has been lapped up by a small but loyal following on BBC America, was up against all-American thoroughbreds such as Sex and City and Will and Grace.

Gervais' win has prompted claims of a new wave of British comedians ready to take the US by storm - if not on TV, then certainly on the stand-up circuit.

Fellow comic Eddie Izzard has enjoyed success with his live touring show - even while poking fun at US audiences during his routine.

Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python's Flying Circus was America's first major comedy import
He is part of a stable of British and Irish talent packaged for US audiences that includes The League of Gentlemen, Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran and Boothby Graffoe.

Izzard said the so-called comedy gap between the two nations - especially over the contentious view that Americans "do not get irony" - was just a myth.

Gervais agreed: "Americans do irony and 'dark' as good as anyone," he said. "Americans understand irony and do it as well, if not better, than us."

Benny Hill
Benny Hill became hugely popular in the US

America has enjoyed an on-off love affair with British humour which began in earnest 30 years ago with Monty Python's Flying Circus and John Cleese's Fawlty Towers.

Python was first broadcast on US public television in the mid-1970s, and still embraces a huge cult following - especially among baby boomers.

Fawlty Towers was that rare thing - a British sitcom that was popular in its original format in the US, elevating Cleese to even greater comic status.

Risqué British comic Benny Hill also became a huge worldwide star and a multi-millionaire in his fifties after his titillating sketch show suddenly took off in the States.

Other imports have experienced mixed success, with a string of adaptations failing to tickle the collective US funny bone.

Seventies sitcom Are You Being Served? was turned into Beane's Of Boston, with a script adapted by writers Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft, but was not picked up for a series.

Til Death Us Do Part
Til Death Us Do Part was successfully adapted for US audiences
Absolutely Fabulous was well received, and comedienne Roseanne Barr bought the US rights. But it was not adapted because the networks were reportedly unhappy about its notorious nature.

More recently the US remake of 30-something comedy Coupling was removed from its prime-time TV spot after critics slated it.

One success was Til Death Us Do Part starring Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, remade as All In The Family in 1971, which ran for nine years.

But Beryl Vertue, the producer who sold the Garnett concept, warned it might not be that easy for Gervais and The Office - which is itself being remade for US audiences.

She said: "I think The Office is wonderful. But the very things that make The Office work - the embarrassed silences, the pauses, the doing nothing, the lack of gags - will undermine the confidence of the networks hugely."

Christmas at The Office with Ricky Gervais
25 Dec 03  |  Entertainment
Ricky Gervais: Office worker
13 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Gervais triumphs at Baftas
13 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
NBC tones down praise of Friends
23 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
Comedy writer hits out at BBC One
06 Jan 04  |  Entertainment
Brits' cheer at Globe nominations
19 Dec 03  |  Entertainment


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