Known for their biting sense of humor and wit, the British have come up with some of the funniest fodder ever to grace television. Here we examine one of the stranger sub-genres, and bring you 10 of the best, weirdest British comedies.

We live in an age of paralyzing normality. Nine out of 10 humans you know own the exact same iPhone; Normcore has stopped being a massive prank played on the unsuspecting public by sadistic fashion editors and has actually become a thing; cue hordes of graphic designer bros in the exact same The North Face jackets in winter and backwards baseball caps in summer; and all of the coffee shops in your faintly arty, growingly-gentrified neighborhood (Williamsburg, Raval, Neukölln, Peckham - I’m lookin’ at you) have begun to look identical with the same exposed brickwork, minimal furniture and same stack of New Yorkers to leaf through.

So guys, it’s time to fill your brain with some unadulterated, way-out-there weirdness before we all turn into little more than a WiFi connection and an American Apparel hoodie. Let’s look to Knifecrime Island for our fill of fun and freaks, courtesy of British comedy offerings spanning from way back when to the present day.


The Mighty Boosh (2003-2007)

It's hard to resist the charms of The Mighty Boosh. This thoroughly likeable LSD trip of a series centres on the life and times of unlikely best friends Howard Moon (a '70s geography teacher type on a serious nostalgia trip) and Vince Noir (a narcissist with a glam-rock wardrobe to rival Bowie's). Throughout the course of the series, we witness the pair working as zookeepers (season one), trying to make it big in the music biz while living in a flat in East London (season two) and running a second-hand shop owned by a shaman (season three).

The show boasts the oddest bunch of supporting characters you’ll ever find: a jealous shaman who’s married to an extreme sports calendar model, a psychedelic monk and a hermaphroditic merman are just a few examples, while the comedy chemistry between Howard and Vince is so electric, it practically crackles. The dialogue is full of quotable nuggets of hard-boiled weird, including when Vince offers to train Howard up for a fight, because he's "a Cockney bitch, a ragamuffin from the streets," Howard responds "You? You're a French duke if ever I saw one. You lay around on hammocks all day eating soft cheese."

Watch the series here.


Brass Eye (1997-2001)

Brass Eye creator and presenter Chris Morris was a legend in British comedy circles back in the '90s, working on radio and TV shows that launched the comedy careers of Steve Coogan (I Am Alan Partridge) and Julian Barratt (Howard of The Mighty Boosh). One great example of Morris' intensely dark, weird humour was spoof news show, Brass Eye, where each show explored a risibly general topic. for example science/sex/drugs in the sensationalist style of the British tabloids. In 2001, Brass Eye's Paeddogedon! episode was broadcast – which was disturbing and hilarious in equal measures, showing video footage of a paedophile disguised as a school and showing Simon Pegg (playing the leader of a paedophiles' rights group) telling Morris (playing the programme’s presenter) that no, actually he doesn't want to sleep with Morris' son, because he "just doesn't fancy him," and cue a deliciously offended Morris.

However, the timing of the show was tasteless, coming just a year after the abduction and murder of an eight-year-old girl by a sex offender in Britain, and the broadcast of the show led to a dubious new record - it was the third most complained about broadcast in British TV history (after Celebrity Big Brother 7 and Jerry Springer: The Opera), The Daily Mail called it "The Sickest TV Show Ever" while government ministers roundly denounced it - only to later confess they'd never actually watched the show. The British media’s mass hysteria on reporting the VIP paedophile ring uncovered over the past two years only makes this episode even more relevant to today’s political climate.

Watch the series here.


Spaced (1991-2001)

Although Simon Pegg had appeared in a whole range of well-known comedy shows by the time Spaced debuted in 1999, they were always minor roles in other comedians' work - Black Books, Brass Eye and I Am Alan Partridge. With Spaced, which was created, written by and starring both Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, Pegg had the chance to craft his own particular brand of homage humor - TV about pop culture nerds, for pop culture nerds. These comic nods include references to, amongst others, the Star Wars trilogy, The Shining, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver and The Omen.

But the show is so much more than a meta-film pub quiz. It centres on two twenty-somethings, Daisy and Tim, who meet each other while flat hunting and despite having just met, have to pretend to be a young professional couple in order to land the flat of their dreams, which is advertising for couples only. They're both slackers with a rich inner fantasy life and weirdness soon ensues, assisted by the presence of Daisy's pretentious fashionista best friend Twist, a deranged conceptual artist, Brian, Tim's delusional best friend Mike and an excess of leisure time enjoyed by both. Also, what's weirder than (spoiler!) a girl meets boy comedy that doesn't end with the two explicitly pairing off?

Watch the series here.


Nathan Barley (2005)

As The Guardian’s Andrew Harrison noted in February, the scariest thing about Chris Morris' hipster satire about the titular "self-facilitating media node" DJ/webmaster/filmmaker Nathan's life in Shoreditch, East London, was just how prescient it was. All the way back in 2005, hipsterdom was something niche: just a small corner of London were obsessed with the latest tech trends and self-consciously silly haircuts and yoof slang. As such, the wacky aspect of it has paled as hipsterdom's become something sold in the form of an Aztec-print rucksack in Urban Outfitters. But back in 2005, the idea of someone riding stupidly small bikes, registering obnoxious website domains (trashbat.co.ck, anyone?) and living 24/7 with a technological device strapped to their body (Nathan's ever present bluetooth headset) was, like, crazy, man. Now what really makes the show wacky is how many trends it pre-empted, from wearable tech to offensively quirky open office design.

Watch the series here.


Black Books (2000-2004)

All hail Dylan Moran! Ireland's most charismatic comedian plays Bernard Black - an anti-social Irishman whose vocation - second hand bookshop owner - forces him into contact with other people all day long. Luckily, Black's able to drink, smoke and bluff his way through business, whether forging his receipts into "a rather smart casual jacket" while doing his accounts or physically sweeping customers out of the shop with a broom. Despite what seems like a sitcom setup, with much of the action focused on Black's witty back-and-forth with his long-suffering shop assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) or his best friend Fran (Tamsin Greig) in the bookshop, there are long detours into deliciously weird territory here. Moving apartment walls, ingesting The Little Book of Calm into one's bloodstream leading to ultimate serenity, and a coffee-and-The-Sweeney-marathon fuelled delusion that you're a proper '70s style policeman are all plot points.

Watch the series here.

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Jam (2000)

Probably Morris’ weirdest offering, Jam was a postmodern comedy sketch show where the use of a distorting lens, slow motion, ambient soundtrack and use of doubles gave the viewer the feeling of being on a bad trip – and there was even a remix version of the same show, Jaaaaam, which was just a heavily distorted version screened later. As one of Morris’ TV creations, you’ll be unsurprised to hear the show caused some controversy with its seriously dark themes. In the infamous “Plumber Baby” sketch, a mother hires a plumber to repair her dead baby while in another sketch a suicidal man is too lazy to go all the way to the top of a building to jump to his death, so proceeds to jump multiple times from the first floor balcony, becoming increasingly bruised and out of it.

Morris’ response to critics who complained the show wasn’t, actually, that funny? He described the ideas used in the show as “things which if you wrote them down in two lines you’d describe as humorous. But they’ve travelled.” He argued the point was to create a “certain atmosphere,” something that was assisted by the show’s lack of ad breaks or end credits – though cynics argued that there were no ad breaks because no brand would ever want to be associated with such a blackly comic show. Jam came in at number 26 on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Scary Moments, despite not being a horror…at least, not by Morris’ definition. Check out one of the lighter sketches below.

Watch the series here.


Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (2004)

If you like your comedy meta, you'll love Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. The parody series centres on fictional horror author Garth Marenghi (played by Matthew Holness), who made a low-budget horror TV series for Channel 4 in the '80s called "Darkplace", which was set at a hospital in Essex with an unfortunate location - the gates of hell. This series was never broadcast due to its "radicality," though Marenghi speculates government involvement at the MI8 level ("three levels above MI6") until 2004, the time the series aired, due to "the worst artistic drought in broadcast history," when Channel 4 relented and released all six episodes. The series functions as a parody of DVD commentary - the fake horror series within the show is interspersed with commentary about the series from its "creators" and there are almost too many targets for the show's satire: the egoism of "mastermind" authors in the '80s, the wooden acting and terrible special effects of low-budget horror series, and the clumsy musical soundtrack accompanying low-budget horror.

Since websites and articles about the show presented Marenghi as a real person, the levels of fiction surrounding the show led many in the British media to become confused at the time of airing and to believe that "Darkplace" (the show within the show) was a genuine TV series from the '80s. It's unabashedly wacky; a man gives birth to an eyeball, a mysterious viral illness causes everyone in the hospital to regress back to a primal state and there's even an extraterrestrial broccoli infection.

Watch the series here.


Peep Show (2003-present)

Peep Show centers on two best friends who couldn't be more different - Mark, a neurotic and history-obsessed businessman and Jez, a deadbeat "musician" who spends more time smoking pot than crafting tunes. Yawn, right? The whole "unlikely duo" is such a well-worn premise that it's dangerously clichéd territory. Yet Peep Show is like no other comedy show you will have seen; the camera shoots from (alternately) Mark and Jeremy's point of view and we hear their thoughts as voiceovers, which creates a palpable sense of peculiarity. Not just the supreme eccentricity of the inner thoughts of Mark and Jeremy, but of how weird you, the viewer are, since so much of the dialogue is relatable in the way of the lazy, narcissistic half-thoughts you'd never dare to say out loud.

After Jeremy's uncle passes away he goes to visit Toni, the neighbor he has a crush on, hoping to make lemonade out of dead uncle lemons and by getting into Toni's pants via a pity fuck. When she brushes him off, claiming she has to get to a date she already has with a six-foot man who "likes movies and walks," he thinks "I can't believe she would be this heartless to someone who's as upset as I say I am." Later, at his uncle's funeral, while Jez should be focusing on his uncle, he gets distracted as his aunt Liz delivers a sermon, thinking: "God, I'm so pleased we stopped going to Liz's for Christmas. Ohhhh, thanks for the Fairtrade nuts again, auntie. She's loving this. What a stitch up!"

Jez and Mark’s weirdness is the weirdness of our worst selves - resenting our relatives and trading off tragic emotional circumstances for sex - and yet it’s twice as funny for it.

Watch the series here.


The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002)

Set in the fictional Northern village of Royston Vasey, this cult horror/comedy show centres on a bizarre selection of "locals." From a grief-stricken cave guide haunted by a tragic accident on a school trip to Hillary Briss, the local butcher who lets his favorite customers buy his "special stuff", to the terrifying Papa Lazarou, whose rejoinder "You're my wife now, Dave" makes us quiver even from the safety of the sofa. The intermingling of wacky humor with incredibly dark storylines makes an interesting combo - think Monty Python meets David Lynch.

Watch the series here.


I Am Alan Partridge (1997-2002)

Down-on-his-luck former TV presenter Alan Partridge hosts a show on local radio in Norwich. Although the show’s very much a sitcom, Partridge’s peculiar living situation (motel room in season one, stationary caravan in season two); odd behavior (he was fired from the TV show for punching someone in the face with a partridge - the avian kind) and pseudo-homoerotic dream sequences mean that it’s definitely eccentric enough to make our cut.

It’s also charming enough. Despite Alan’s intensely questionable politics (whether electoral, racial or sexual), he’s king of the soundbites, with lines like (on the timing of his radio show) “Some people call it the graveyard slot and they’re people who are bitter. My audience is divided into early morning farmers and late night returning ravers.” and “I’m 47, my girlfriend's 33; she's 14 years younger than me, back of the net!” hooking you in for a Youtube marathon.

Watch the series here.

Written by Sophie Atkinson for Highsnobiety.com

Were we spot on or did we miss a show? Let us know your favorite odd British comedy series in the comments.

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