‘Jam’: The experimental black comedy by Chris Morris

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In 2000, Channel 4 witnessed perhaps its darkest moment with the release of the Chris Morris experimental black comedy series Jam. Based on the legendary British comedian and writer’s BBC Radio 1 show Blue Jam, the sketch show saw Morris deliver his most bizarre offering in the form of disconcerting and surreal moments of off-beat and sometimes sickening humour.

Morris had repurposed some of the Blue Jam sketches with many of his The Day Today and Brass Eye alums, including Amelia Bullmore, Julia Davis, Kevin Eldon and Mark Heap, plus himself, lip-synching their lines, which, along with an eerie ambient soundtrack and strange lighting, visual and audio effects, led to an atmosphere of a genuinely unsettling nature.

Each episode begins with a bizarre free-form poetry reading from Morris, with the visuals relating to the lyrical content in an alarming fashion. They read like the genuine ramblings of a madman high on psychedelic drugs and teetering on the borderline of terror until collapsing into absurdist and surreal hilarity.

From there, Morris delved into a combination of comedy, horror and experimentation with just a dash of his trademark satire and social commentary. Many sketches see his characters confront the darkest parts of the human experience, like suicide, sexual abuse and mental illness, with an unflinching honesty and matter-of-fact attitude.

Take, for instance, the mother in the throes of grief following the death of her newborn baby who calls a plumber to see if he can fix it, or the little girl who is sent to clean up after an accidental death and proceeds to make her best impression of a gangster ‘fixer’ with all the profanity included. Or even, God forbid, the man who appeases his wife following being caught in an unfaithful act by telling her that he was only sexually assaulting her, much to her newfound glee.

While Morris has consistently shocked and provoked, leading to his eventual banishment by Channel 4, his comedy works have also provided a confrontation of the most taboo subjects that allows audiences to confront their discomfort and complicity in such facets of our oft-absurd societies. But when such honesty and matter-of-factness meets grotesque aesthetics, the result persistently teeters between sheer outrage and outright comedic brilliance. It makes Jam perhaps Morris’s most understated masterpiece, even if it is not intended for the faint of heart.

Beneath the shocking instances of parents hoping to get their children into competitive schools by getting their friend’s children addicted to drugs and alcohol, a man hosting his funeral before he actually dies, and another throwing himself from the first floor of a tower block 50 times rather than the 50th just once in case he ever changed his mind, lies an examination of an existential dread that is rarely if ever confronted in television comedy and poignant remarks on the nature of cruelty and depravity.

These occurrences – infant mortality, incest, murder and sexual deviance – are not considered applicable topics for comedy. Still, with a master of satire at the helm, Morris makes Jam one of the best comedy moments of the 21st century. He allows his audience to confront the ugly reality of the human experience while essentially making fun of it all. If one can laugh at these kinds of events, then their spirits might just be emboldened enough to make it through all of life’s difficulties.

Even better, perhaps, is that while there’s an undoubted darkness to Jam, with a soundtrack featuring Massive Attack, Sade, Bark Psychosis, Brian Eno, Morcheeba and Aphex Twin, it’s also a bit of a damn vibe, too, an ambient dreamscape onto which our deepest and most depraved thoughts are projected.

Life is fragile and baulked about by difficulty. Still, through a series of disturbing and surreal vignettes, Morris provided an experimental critique of our modern ills while making the whole human enterprise the absurdist comedy that it undoubtedly is. Jam is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and even the hardiest of satirists can wince at some of Morris’s most courageous moments. But for those who can withstand the relentless horror and humour combination, the show of sickening brilliance might be one of the greatest and most impressionable of all time.

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