I have always believed that the best scholarship grows out of passion, not intellect. That it begins with falling in love, and wanting to tell the world. The application of reason and critical framing is merely a way of justifying, or amplifying that declaration of love. Over the past few years, I have been immersed in a massive, shapeless writing project having to do with comedy—specifically, UK television and stand-up comedy–because I want to share my love of such TV programs as PEEP SHOW, IT CROWD, and REV., and the brilliant stand-up of Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson, and Josie Long.
Today I want to declare my deep and abiding love for Limmy. Not Lemmy, the recently deceased front man for the seminal British metal band, Motorhead, but Limmy (a.k.a., Brian Limond), a Scottish comedian, author, and TV and Internet phenomenon, known to only a select few in America. This is understandable. We import virtually no Scottish comedy into this country, and he speaks in a heavy Glaswegian accent that, without subtitles, would be nearly impossible for most American ears to understand. But it is a profound shame. The world would surely be a better place if we all knew Limmy.
The best introduction to Limmy Is his sketch program, LIMMY’S SHOW, all three seasons of which are currently streaming on Netflix. It is, hands down, the best sketch program I have ever seen, and a contender for my favorite comedy program, period. In a genre that tends to have far more misses that hits, Limmy never lapses, never disappoints. Often personal, sometimes surreal, occasionally satirical, Limmy’s humor is at once hilarious, sad, angry, kind, and full of wonder. It is not always laugh out loud funny (though there are plenty of those moments), nor does it always abide by the basic narrative structures of the joke (set-up, complication, resolution; call-backs; punch lines; etc.), but it is always distinctive, generous, and wise in subtle, surprising, and occasionally breathtaking ways.
This is partly due to the abundance of extraordinary characters Limmy has created, and inhabits himself. The pilot episode of LIMMY’s SHOW introduces you to such memorable figures as the crudely-drawn cartoon schoolyard gangster/entrepreneur, Wee Gary (illustrated and voiced by Limmy), who scams fellow children out of money, and when they refuse to pay, has the class bullies mete out a cruel punishment known as the “pole crusher” (which needs to be seen to be believed); or the ex-junkie, Jacqueline McCaffrey, who has a massive chip on her shoulder because polite society does not seem to fully embrace her, and her sordid tale of addiction and recovery (Jackie is played with deadpan sincerity by an unshaven Limmy in pumps and a flowing platinum wig); or Falconhoof, a fantasy role-playing character in a call-in game, whose callers are less interested in playing the game than complaining about it, or airing petty grievances; or the psychic medium, Raymond Day, who seems only to commune with spirits bringing bad news to their loved ones (many clearly communicating from Hell). While at first glance these might appear to be of a piece with the outsized, absurd, overblown types sketch shows like PORTLANDIA or KEY AND PEELE trade upon, Limmy is deeply interested in his characters, and never plays for easy laughs. He wants us to know the people who inhabit his fictional world, to sympathize with them, and to recognize ourselves in them. More often than not, the laugh catches in one’s throat as one realizes the full implications of characters’ circumstances and actions. LIMMY’S SHOW constantly reminds us that all great comedy comes from, and returns to pathos.
Besides playing all of the key roles in the series, Limmy writes, produces, and directs. This is DIY TV at its finest. The series was commissioned by the BBC after they had seen scores of Limmy’s homemade videos, posted on the Internet over the previous half dozen years: most notably on his popular vodcast, LIMMY’S WORLD OF GLASGOW. He began making these short pieces to amuse himself, and to cope with his life-long, often crippling bouts of depression. In some cases, the characters embody an aspect of his own personality (a stoner named Dee-Dee, who slips in and out of hallucinatory reveries, is Limmy’s version of himself in the throes of depression-think); in others, they simply evoke the tiny dissonances and misunderstandings that prevent us from fully connecting with each other on a social or personal level (a man takes inexplicable pleasure from covering his face with a lampshade, and the habit eventually destroys his marriage; another believes that it is the generosity of his smile, rather than his grotesque facial features, that convinces others to do his bidding). Though the sketches are often built upon silly, flimsy formulations, they rarely fail to convey deep, and deeply human feelings.
Which is why I, and so many who know his work, genuinely love Limmy. By which I do not simply mean that we love his work, and love his sensibility. We love him. We love that he exists, and chooses to share his existence, and his perspective on it with us. In a time when it is easy to see media as something that disconnects us, and displaces analogue communities with virtual ones, Limmy manages to reach through. Never sentimental or mawkish, often dark and disturbing, his comedy nonetheless touches us, if we let it.