Tracing the origins of modern ‘lad’ culture isn’t easy. Some cite James Brown’s launch of Loaded – the magazine for men who ‘should know better’ – while others point to the arrival of competitor FHM as its more definitive arrival in society.
However, I think you have to cast your mind back a little earlier to the late 80s and early 90s to first radio and then to TV with a comedy show called The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Originally airing on Radio 1 before moving over to BBC2, the show was the first real sign that the politically correct 1980s stand-up and alternative comedy scene was about to be taken over by ‘lad’ humour.
Named after the famed campaigning head of the ‘clean up the airwaves’ National Viewers and Listeners’ Association, the show starred two young, male comedy double acts: David Baddiel and Rob Newman, and Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis. It was essentially a series of satirical and observational sketches featuring usually one or other of the two pairings, occasionally both (although by series two of the TV show, it was clear that the double acts were operating more or less independently of each other).
Both acts had their own styles: Baddiel, essentially an intellectual who wanted to be a ‘lad’, devoted a lot of his act to playground humour, while Newman, essentially a ‘lad’ who wanted to be an intellectual, focused more on observational comedy and satire; Punt and Dennis were more cohesive, performing in much the same way as they do now on Radio 4’s The Now Show with Steve Punt delivering a monologue, usually on a topical issue, with occasional help from Dennis, Dennis more given to funny characters and voices.
Although most sketches were standalone, each preceded by a ‘The xx Experience’ where xx was the subject of the sketch, the show began to feature a number of regular characters: Ray (Newman), a man afflicted with a sarcastic tone of voice; Ivan (Newman), a perpetually accidental daytime TV presenter; and ‘Milky Milky’ (Dennis), a weird man who carries around milk. The show also featured musical satires of groups including Shakespeare’s Sister and The Cure.
However, it’s most famous characters were the ‘History Today’ pair, played by Newman and Baddiel: two old historians hosting a fake TV show, whose conversation gradually descends into childish taunts:
While the Radio 1 show also featured the likes of Nick Hancock, Jo Brand and Mark Thomas, beyond the first episode of the TV series, which included Doon MacKichan (first spotted as a rising star of the comedy scene in ITV’s Five Alive before later going on to work with Chris Morris and to be one of the three main performers in the equally innovative Smack The Pony), the show saw fewer appearances by anyone else, particularly women. And it was in this crucible that ‘lad’ humour got to appear on the air after a decade that had tried to ensure equality and unsexist humour become a thing of the past.
As well as a slight smattering of casual racism, homophobia and objectification of women in various episodes – all done ‘ironically’, of course – Baddiel’s obsession of the time, porn, also got a look-in:
After two series, the two groups were at the height of their fame, but less and less inclined to work with another, so both went on to their own shows: Newman and Baddiel in Pieces and The Imaginatively Titled Punt and Dennis Show. As well as new characters such as Newman’s louche ‘Jarvis’ and Dennis’ ’embarrassing dad’, both shows featured popular characters from The Mary Whitehouse Experience, including ‘History Today’ and ‘Milky Milky’.
Immediately after their first series had finished, Newman and Baddiel went on tour, becoming the first comedians to play Wembley, although they didn’t quite manage to sell it out (I should know since I was there… Empty seats, dudes. Lots of empty seats). As was evident from their TV show, Newman and Baddiel were by this point less and less inclined to write together, and at the end of their tour, the two split up.
Punt and Dennis’s partnership was evidently stronger (they’re still working together, of course), although their show only lasted one more series than Newman and Baddiel’s, after which they returned to radio. Newman went off to become an author before eventually returning to stand-up, while Baddiel stayed on TV for a while as the host of A Stab in the Dark, where he got to recycle more and more of his stand-up material… and talk about porn.
If you want to watch the eps, unfortunately they’re not available on DVD, but you can watch most of them on YouTube below.