If you haven’t seen The IT Crowd (2006 – 2013) then you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Honestly it’s one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in a long while. Without a doubt it’s one of those comedies. A nice little addition to the world from Graham Linehan, much like his previous works have been. At it’s heart, The IT Crowd is a nerd comedy. It has a reliance on pop culture and references, but not an overuse of them. It finds a great balance, and it works extremely well.
But what makes this system of comedy work for the show? Well, I thought it was worth looking a little more in depth to this. Discovering how a comedy works is important, especially when it’s as funny as The IT Crowd. Enough rambling though, to me there are three extremely important aspects to why this comedy works so well.
No over reliance on pop culture
A lot of comedies similar to The IT Crowd have a reliance on pop culture. Compare it to something like The Big Bang Theory (It will never end), which uses pop culture in a very different way. With The Big Bang Theory, pop culture references are literally just used as punchlines. Sheldon could say “Live long and prosper” in that funny little voice of his and get a standing ovation. It’s cheap, dumb, and one of the many reasons The Big Bang Theory is so terrible. It’s the processed meat of comedy.
On the other hand though, The IT Crowd does something very different. It actually uses these pieces of pop culture as a prop to a joke, not as the joke. There’s a scene where Roy drops off his date and it’s gone terribly. He sees she has a new game that he wants to play and asks if he can borrow it. Now that doesn’t sound all that funny given I’ve typed it out, but it bloody is. That’s an important difference, The IT Crowd, when referencing pop culture, has some respect for the field it is in.
A lot of that probably comes down to Linehan himself being a fan of video games. A lot of the time, television uses video games as a platform for “it’s funny because you’re a child” or something equally as shit. When you use and utilise a pop culture reference you need to make sure you have a delicate respect for the referenced product no matter what it may be.
It’s funny on it’s own merit
Even without the use of pop culture references, The IT Crowd is at it’s heart, a very funny comedy. To prove this, we can easily just look at any character that isn’t Moss or Roy. Although their staple of comedy is the fact that they’re “computer nerds”, a good chunk of the comedy comes from workplace situations. Hell, actually I was lying when I said Moss and Roy are just there for the sake of nerds.
A scene in the first season shows Roy stuck under a desk and Moss try and rescue him. There’s no reference to pop culture within that scene or in fact that episode. Maybe I’ve overestimated how many references to pop culture there are in this show. Some of the references are for a pretty small audience as well, such as the ZX Spectrum reference.
If you got rid of the entire nerd routine that gets some cheap laughs from the audience, The IT Crowd would be just as funny. Really the show is all about the alienation we have towards computer technicians, a rightly held stereotype, stay away from those freaks. Still, there are scenes throughout based on the stupidity of others, and that will always be funny. Their lack of understanding of IT actually pushes the nerdy stereotype to new areas that have yet to be explored.
More than just nerds
We see these characters develop freely and not just because of stereotypes. The show doesn’t just confine us to nerdy type characters, there’s a whole variety to be shown. A perfect example of this is Jen, she knows nothing about technology and doesn’t show any signs of improving that. Why would she learn anything about tech anyways? There was always room in the show for one of the “normal” people. Someone that could be included in the comedy of the others, but also have her own, separate comedic moments that don’t involve IT.
Often there are two or three or even four plot developments going on at the same time. There’s an entire episode devoid of pretty much any jokes in relation to nerdy stuff. Mainly because it’s replaced with how socially inept they are, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
We actually see these characters flourish and develop over the four seasons we’re given. Roy is a hopeless soul that’s just wanting to settle down. Moss is the token weird character but we even see some very important changes for him throughout the entirety of the show. He does feel like the fall guy out of all the characters though, a very stereotypical nerd that just goes for broke in his performance.
I think for me the reason this show works as a nerd comedy is that it doesn’t insult it’s audience. Shovelling reference after reference like The Big Bang Theory does is not comedy. That’s literally naming something from thirty years ago and making people laugh at it. The IT Crowd never feels the need to do that because even without these references it would be a very funny comedy.
Come to think of it, a lot of the jokes didn’t even mention pop culture. From figuring out how you stop a fire at Sea Parks to not being eaten by a cannibal. The IT Crowd certainly has it’s nerdy moments thanks to the setting, but by no means is it a nerd comedy. It’s just a comedy, and a bloody good one at that. If you haven’t watched this show then do yourself a favour and give it a watch.
A traditional nerd comedy uses pop culture as a mockery. The IT Crowd uses it not as a mockery, but a staple of it’s series.