If there is one thing that fascinates me about improv and that is how it is portrayed in Television and Film. This is becoming more and more apparent in recent years because the comedy art form is sort of in fashion. There are some interesting topics that we can gain from these ways they are displayed so every so often we are going to look at different scenes from different shows and films.
When I think of status in comedy there was only one name that really sprung to mind and that was one of my heroes – Rik Mayall. He is so good at playing a very low status and also playing a very high status and can really push the barriers in making those elements seep through perfectly. It makes him the perfect case study for improv because status is such an important thing to use in Improv. Here are some examples of characters that Rik plays that really shine the status through
Richie – Bottom
When looking at status, Richie is a very interesting character to observe and use as a case study. Status really is a big part of Bottom and is used so well to create so much of the humour. The whole show is based around two men, Richie and Eddie who if you put them into society terms, have really low status. However, whilst this is the underlining current of this show the status between the two friends is fascinating how it can drop and alter. Riks character is definitely the lowest status of either of the characters – he never has any luck with the women, he is always being screwed over without realising it – however he thinks he is much higher status then Ade Edmonson’s character and really believes this in so many ways. However if you look at it, it’s actually Eddie that is of this higher (not by very much) status as he always is tricking Richie and always tries to be the more dominant quietly.
Detective Inspector Gideon Pryke – Jonathan Creek
In this role, Rik plays a very high status character, he is slick, he is smart and has a strong intelligence that at times in his first appearance in the show, challenges even Jonathan at times. It also wouldn’t be a Rik high status character without his charm towards the ladies with that raise of the eyebrow and smile. He has very confident postures and very smooth in the way that he approaches everything including a crime scene – knowing exactly what to do and what to say – which if you look at a lot of Jonathan Creek’s the police are usually seen as a lower status. Even though he has a high status he is always slightly under Jonathan Creek and even more so in later episodes. When he returns to Jonathan Creek he is in a wheelchair which automatically lowers his status a slightly bit more as he was wounded on the job.
Drop Dead Fred
As this character Fred has a high status throughout the film for many different reasons – the first is because he is technically the older of the two leads and has always been a figure / imaginary friend that the girl has always idolised. Another reason that he is of a higher status is that he is always causing mischief and because he is ‘invisible’ no one can see that it is him causing all the trouble so it lowers the status of the girl, Lizzie. However, near the end of the film his status is slowly lowered when he realises that Lizzie needs to forget about him and move onto a real life.
Lord Flashheart – Blackadder
Lord Flashheart is a fantastic example of a high status role that Rik can play. Loud, cocky, confident, a way with the ladies, this truly is a perfect example of him playing a character that oozes with high status. The way that he approaches the scenes automatically lower the status of Rowan Atkinsons character throughout as everyone that approaches Flasheart instantly loves him where as Blackadder never gets this approach.
Alan Beresford B’Stard – The New Statesman
Alan B’stad is a Conservative Backbencher who is selfish, greedy, dishonest, devious, lecherous, sadistic, self-serving and ultra-right-wing. Whilst the character is of high status, which can be emphasised that he is meant to be the youngest MP at 31 there are some elements of the show that actually make his status a lot lower which create funny results. The first thing that creates a lower status to the character is that he is married to a woman who absolutely hates him with a passion and wants him to die so she can inherit all his money. Another way that his status was lowered was that even though he was a womaniser and was always hitting on women he was very under-endowed and suffered from premature ejaculation.