Once in a Lifetime: Music, Parody, and Comical Incongruity in The Young Ones

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Music in Comedy Television Notes on Laughs, 2017, pp. 59 - 72
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he Young Ones, a BBC TV situation comedy program originally broadcast in two series in 1982–1984, is notable for the variety of ways in which it uses music for comic purposes and for the extension of these into related audio-visual production. This chapter addresses the manner in which the parody of a variety of popular and/or subcultural music practices and, in particular, the professional personality and music of veteran English pop performer Cliff Richard, is central to the series and its humour. As Coyle and Morris have identified, parody, referentialism, and diegetic/non-diegetic ambiguities are key aspects of the comic effects of music in film (2010: 202). These three aspects are also key to The Young Ones’ televisual humour. Aside from the series’s opening and closing theme tunes, music predominantly occurs within the sitcom’s diegesis, either in terms of music performed by characters or else in the form of diegetic “drop-ins” from guest musicians. With regard to diegetic performances, humour also derives from an aspect identified by Giuffre and Evans, whereby “songs performed within the film’s diegesis … are perceived as comic due to aspects of lyrics, performance, instrumentation, and/or musical style” (2016: 8). Congruence and incongruence are also key aspects of music in the series. Heiser (2016) has elaborated the manner in which comedy can be provided by incongruent combinations of music and image and/or action that invite (culturally informed) audience members in on jokes in a manner that gives them a pleasurable sense of active interpretation. The Young Ones demonstrates this via a distinct two-tier aspect. It combines crude slapstick humour that does not require specialised cultural knowledge to recognise or respond to and a series of more specific cultural references that an informed audience can also discern to be in play. The latter is particularly marked with regard to Britishness or, rather, of particular British identifications with and interpretations of aspects of international anglophone popular music and youth culture.
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