CW: Everything, all the bad things
Chris Morris’ television show Jam was originally a radio series called Blue Jam, in which five to ten minute ‘sketches’ played out above an ambient soundtrack bed. When it was imported to television, the actors lip-synced to these pre-recordings, intensifying the surreal effect that the show gave off. Jam is subversive, hilarious, absurd and if you’ve never seen it, I’d advise you to keep it that way. Every episode contains at least one thing that is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, let alone the worst thing I’ve ever seen in show that it supposedly a comedy. In one episode, a couple are only slightly irritated that their child has been abducted and murdered, in another, a woman near fatally maims a cyclist in order to have someone to talk to, and in one of the show’s legendarily creepy cold openings, a homeless man is abducted and forced to wrestle pigs for sport. These are some of the milder scenarios of the show’s one-season run.
One of the running sketches that appears in Blue Jam never made the transition into the television show, one in which an unnamed character relates a narrative in monologue. Based on the addictions he outlines, he seems to have a neurological disorder of some kind. We only get snatches of his backstory; his narratives are far too fragmented to provide any specific detail. We might get some bits of information regarding the narrator’s wife and his childhood, but this isn’t to say that can necessarily trust what it is that he says; take this example:
I began to remember the time when I was seven and a gerbil had started swearing at me. Amongst other things it had told me that my dad was having an affair. I told my mum and soon afterwards the family had split up.
While none of these sketches made it into the television show, one of the monologues, in which the narrator is goaded by a talking dog, supposedly acting as his lawyer, goads him into doing various things, was adopted into a short film My Wrongs 8245–8249 & 117 in 2002, starring Paddy Considine. It’s not quite successful however, the original medium in which these sketches appeared, discontinuous monologues within the context of a radio sketch show, are definitely more suited to rendering them. The short film brings the viewer too close to the psychosis by representing the dog as actually talking, and loses the overall effect of having the listener dependent on the narrator’s perspective, however unreliable. Added to all this, it isn’t really one of the best monologues, one has the feeling that the joke is going on for too long.
The most successful pieces are the ones rooted within social comedy while maintaining the surrealist vibe, in such a way that is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett or Flann O’Brien, which has had I think, a far greater impact on UK/Irish comedy than is generally acknowledged. Compare the fundamental uncertainty touched upon in these monologues with the opening of Beckett’s novel Molloy:
I am in my mother’s room. It’s I who live there now. I don’t know how I got there. Perhaps in an ambulance, certainly a vehicle of some kind. I was helped. I’d never have got there alone. There’s this man who comes every week. Perhaps I got there thanks to him. He says not.
with the third episode:
I had been in the pub three hours talking to a guy I used to work with named Ian before I realised he wasn’t called Ian at all and I was in the wrong pub. By that stage he was very cross. He poked me in the chest and asked me if I was some kind of puppy squeezer.
And another one because it’s rather good:
I had wandered into a children’s park under the influence of Prozac and I had beaten up an ostrich while several toddlers looked on and cried…I begged a little girl to kill me. She left with her mother shortly afterwards.
It is in the second instalment of the show that the target of Morris’ satire becomes a bit clearer, as the narrator is mistaken for a piece of conceptual art after he goes blind. His blindness is a side-effect of his codeine overdose, it should be noted. Morris is clearly taking aim at 1990’s Britain, and the growth of ‘Cool Britannia,’ not to mention the urban chattering classes who propagate it. In this New Labour era, almost every character the narrator encounters is more a bundle of shallow affectations than a real person; when he is exhibited in an apartment, they are reported as saying things like: ‘this is what art should be. Moving in a relevant way.’ Novelist Will Self even makes a cameo, declaring that he ‘has never seen a more kleptomasturbatory entropoid.’ One can imagine Morris, an increasingly feted, critical darling in this media landscape of this era, casting an eye on his peers who lacked his critical eye regarding the media establishment.
In another, he meets a comedian named Tony at a party, ‘standing next to a huge ice sculpture of his head.’ One thinks of David Baddiel and Rob Newman playing Wembley Stadium, and the belief that British comedy in the nineties was to be ‘the new rock n’ roll’. Merely by being in attendance, the speaker’s career seems to be getting off to a good start:
By the time I got back to the crab tartlets, I had an agent, a transmittable pilot, a five year development deal and someone with a mobile phone told me Jarvis Cocker wanted to meet with me.
The highlight for me, is probably ‘The Suicide Journalist,’ in which a journalist named Clive has announced in his weekly column, his intention to commit suicide, and to document process over a number of weeks. The column is a big hit among the bright young things, who all attempt to impress Clive at a dinner party with tales of their own mental anguish and self-harm: ‘Look at my scars. They are beautiful, but not as beautiful as your columns.’
Goby Jovler (in theory rather than execution) is another probable highlight, as a parody of a vapid Pinter imitation, responsible for a play called Fuckers: ‘critics had said it was the devastatingly accurate play that will ever be written about sex,’ which tackles the subject of urban alienation ‘as a sexual malfunctioning zeitgeist.’
It’s worth reflecting on these sorts of media edifices Morris satirises in amidst the nineties nostalgia arising in our current era of political turmoil, and remembering that, while they might have been a good time for journalists and cocaine users (significant overlap here) they weren’t a golden age of affluence for everyone. The seemingly homeless, indigent and drug-addicted narrator is probably not there are a means of furthering the show’s social critique, but serves as a disembodied presence through which the era, in all of its absurdity, becomes clear. He’s at his best when used as a foil to the absurd commentariat, as in the quotation below:
I said I’d had no money for a bottle of wine and the homeless bloke at the tube station who usually subs me a couple of quid because he says I look worse off than his dog was being mugged when I’d asked him this time, and hadn’t given me a penny. And then I’d got lost because I’d forgotten whether Susie’s house was opposite some trees or opposite no trees at all. Several conversations had started by the time I’d got to that bit.