The most controversial British comedies
Britain doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to culture, at least not when it comes to food or modern art, anyway. One area the Brits have always excelled in is their fantastic sense of humour, which has led to countless great British comedies since regular UK television broadcasts began in 1936.
However, as times and attitudes have changed, some shows that were once considered amusing have been retroactively labeled as offensive or distasteful, and many have been removed from streaming services like the BBC iPlayer. As a result, if these controversial series were to be pitched to the executives of modern television, there’s almost no chance they’ll get the green light.
Banzai was a game-centric game show that ran for three seasons in the early 2000s. The E4 series sought to satirize the over-the-top nature of Japanese game shows as Dero! and Takeshi Castle and was made up of a mix of regular recurring segments and random celebrity challenges. It was certainly entertaining, although criticized by some for perpetuating some negative Japanese stereotypes.
One of the most notable segments revolved around a character named Mr. Shake Hands Man, who attended red carpet events and tried to shake hands with celebrities for as long as possible. The show has also been criticized for its treatment of animals, with viewers able to bet on things like how long it would take to microwave a cockroach or how many helium balloons it would take to lift a chicken into the air.
There are many parallels between Sacha Baron Cohen and Leigh Francis, with both men proving to be masters of character-driven sketches. Granted, Francis never reached the same lofty heights as Borat creator Bruno and Ali G, although he had several popular characters in the early 21st century. Keith Lemon may be the most notable of them all, but that was Francis Avid Merrion’s celebrity stalker character and the show Bo’ Selecta! it really helped shine a light on the talented Yorkshireman.
In the series, Francis would wear latex masks of various celebrities, including Elton John, Michael Jackson and, perhaps most famously, Craig David. While sometimes funny, the show’s humor was often incredibly crude, with toilet humor being used in the majority of its sketches. The show’s use of blackface has since also drawn heavy criticism and led to the series’ removal from Channel 4’s All 4 streaming service in June 2020.
Bo Selecta! wasn’t the only British comedy to be retroactively criticized for its use of blackface, with Saturday night takeout, The League of Gentlemenand The Mighty Boosh also under fire from critics in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, perhaps most notable was little britainwith the David Walliams and Matt Lucas sketch show completely removed from the BBC iPlayer almost overnight.
Although it has since returned to the online streaming service with scenes containing the offending characters cut out, its disparaging view of minority groups is just the tip of the iceberg, with its depictions of women, the mentally handicapped and of the LGBTQIA+ community. fire in recent years. It wasn’t the only controversial Walliams and Lucas show, either, with come fly with me also using blackface for several of its characters.
Fans of the popular Ownage Pranks YouTube channel would have probably gotten a real kick out of it Phonejacker, a 2006 E4 series centered on ridiculous pranks. Like OP’s Russell, Kayvan Novak had many comedic characters in his repertoire, including Terry Tibbs, Brian Badonde and Ugandan con artist George Agdgdgwngo. The show actually ran for four seasons, with the last two being rebranded facejacker and featuring live pranks rather than telephone pranks.
Although some of PhonejackerNovak’s ethnic accents drew complaints, a combination of Novak’s Iranian roots and a small but dedicated audience allowed the show to fly under the radar to some extent. The format change of facejacker and the accompanying blackface was far less forgivable, however, with Augustus Kwembe’s character having aged particularly badly in the decade or so since the show first aired.
With more than 160 episodes spread over 16 seasons, Eurotrash was one of the longest running British comedy shows of all time when it finally came to an end at the end of 2004. With each episode costing hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce, it was also one of the shows the most expensive on British television, although one would never have guessed that just by watching it due to the series’ intentional low-budget feel.
In terms of actual content, Eurotrash adopted a magazine format and focused on crude and perverted content from across Europe, with exaggerated dubbing for comedic effect. Interviews with porn stars and nudity were the norm, as were stories that focused on people with unusual inclinations or hobbies. The show was revived for a special Brexit episode in 2016, although it’s hard to see a series like Eurotrash be ordered these days, which former host Jean Paul Gaultier lamented in a 2021 interview with the Irish Times.
MORE: The best British comedy shows