‘Bruiser’: The excellent British comedy that preceded ‘Peep Show’

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It’s undeniable that good old Britain has coughed up some of the greatest comedy television series of all time ever since the little electric box arrived in living rooms across the world halfway through the 20th century. From the likes of Fawlty Towers and Only Fools and Horses to The Office and The Royle Family, British comedy has always been at the top of the game.

And when talking of British comedy from a 21st-century standpoint, it’s hard to look beyond the genuine iconic, ultra-quotable status of Peep Show, written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who also contributed to the writing as well as playing the unlikely friends Mark Corrigan and Jeremy Usbourne.

Peep Show, running for nine seasons from 2003 to 2015, quickly became something of a British cultural artefact, serving as a dissection of awkward British culture with an ingenious use of point-of-view shots and internal voiceovers. However, prior to the show’s arrival on Channel 4 at the beginning of the third millennium, Mitchell and Webb had already delivered their unique comedy with the sketch show Bruiser.

With additional writing assistance from the likes of Richard Ayoade and Ricky Gervais, Bruiser served as Mitchell and Webb’s breakthrough on television and led to their appearance in Peep Show, plus their other widely celebrated sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look, which cemented their status as two of 21st-century British comedy’s most significant names.

There was some serious comic and acting talent on offer in Bruiser; as well as Mitchell and Webb themselves, Martin Freeman of The Office, Olivia Colman of Peep Show and Matthew Holness of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace all featured, serving as something of a springboard for their respective careers of genuine excellence.

Sketches included two screenwriters pitching increasingly bizarre show ideas to the agent of Alan Titchmarsh, a parody of James Bond in which Q demonstrates new gadgets to Bond even though they are everyday household items, a further spoof of French new wave films in a black and white style, and others in which swathes of characters proved their general incompetence.

Mitchell and Webb are well admired within the world of British comedy for their irreverent humour that takes occasional swipes at the conventions and paradigms of life within the United Kingdom, but it was Bruiser that served as their first significant offering, a showcase of their respective wit and charm.

The BBC admitted that Bruiser seemed to underperform upon its initial release despite its immense talent on screen and in the writing room. If the series itself is not widely remembered, it’s notable not least for bringing together an immensely talented group of young performers who have since joined the ‘A’ list of British comedians,” they wrote. And with the likes of Freeman, Mitchell, Webb, Colman and Holness amongst Bruiser’s ranks, it’s fair to say it ought to be championed as an important piece of British comedy history.

Check out an episode of Bruiser below.

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