"You haven't got a clue, have you? But you will do if you watch for 30 minutes."
After a second series of The Day Today
failed to materialise and the team went their separate ways, Chris Morris
took the faux news format and a handful of characters and put his creative energy into making Brass Eye
, a controversial and vicious satire of the Prime Time News
format. The series not only deconstructed the way the news media told stories, it also made sharp jabs at topics - such as the British government's failure to improve the lot of the underprivileged, the negative effect that borstals have on young offenders, and the gullibility of celebrities when the promise of some good publicity is waved in their faces.
Dressing up in a number of disguises, Morris created a series of fake charities and good causes including "Nonce Sense", an anti-paedophile campaign, and asked celebrities and politicians to endorse them while reading out blatantly nonsensical rubbish from an auto-cue. An example: "Genetically, paedophiles have more in common with crabs
than they do with you or me."
The test was to see if anyone would sign up to these charities and spout whatever nonsense they were given without checking any of their facts first - and they did. In droves. In fact, it led to one Member of Parliament on the programme asking a question in the House of Commons about "Cake", a "metabolically bisturbile drug" that Morris had completely made up for the programme.
The result was outrage in some corners of the media and strong approval from the rest, who correctly pointed out that the celebs and MPs were given plenty of time to check the veracity of the charities and could have dropped out at any time. Morris also got in a spot of hot water when he inserted a subliminal message in a Brass Eye
episode attacking the then current Channel 4 boss Michael Grade
over edits he'd mandated in the episode,
the words Grade Is A Cunt
were displayed onscreen for a single frame◊
. The message (and the edits) were removed for later repeats and the DVD release.
The show lasted just one series of six episodes, but returned in 2001 with the Paedophile Special, which caused even more outrage, largely in conservative newspapers that misrepresented the show as being a "comedy about paedophiles" rather than a satire of the media's then-obsession with sensationalised paedophile stories. In one notable case The Daily Star
published an article attacking the "paedophile comedy" opposite a photograph of then-15-year-old singer Charlotte Church◊
in which it commended the size of her breasts. It's not a coincidence that the papers the show mocked were the ones that most got their knickers in a twist over it.
However, the series has gone down in British comedy history as a modern classic, and is widely regarded as Morris' best work.
Sample quote from the series: "If you plot 'number of animals abused' against 'what makes people cruel' versus 'intelligence of either party', the pattern is so unreadable that you might as well just draw a chain of fox heads on sticks. And if you do that, an interesting thing happens: the word 'cruel' starts flashing. So - are we cruel to hunt foxes?"
This show provides examples of:
- Acting for Two (or many more): Most of the cast, but Chris Morris himself especially.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Several of the celebrities conned into making appearances in support of the fake charities were, upon learning the truth, willing to put their hands up and admit both that the joke was on them and that it was a pretty funny one. A more common reaction, however, was self-righteous humourlessness.
- Absurdity Ascendant — The show makes heavy use of surreal imagery, which makes the celebrities who fall for it look even funnier.
- Bestiality Is Depraved:
Chris Morris: In Britain in the last century, it was quite acceptable for a young man to lose their virginity to one of London's many whoredogs. Dickens and Prince Albert both boasted of their experience.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: The parodies of CGI diagrams in the news (see the sample quote above) were made by the same people who did the real ones. Apparently, they relished the opportunity to make fun of their stock-in-trade.
- Morris also inserted a subliminal message saying "Grade is a Cunt", in honour of Channel 4 executive Michael Grade, who had demanded edits and cuts in the show.
- Black Comedy — On occasion... The original series finale "Decline" (parodying the perceived decline of moral standards) provides some of the best examples, including the fictional stage show Sutcliffe: The Musical (which was cut from the original broadcast) and a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Jarvis Cocker singing a Silly Love Song dedicated to Moors murderer Myra Hindley.
- British Brevity
- Broken Aesop — The series was deliberately packed to the gunwales with these.
(After the presenter's confession to the camera about his heroin addiction is revealed to be a fake) "Luckily, the amount of heroin I use is harmless, I inject about once a month on a purely recreational basis. Fine. But what about other people less stable, less educated, less middle-class than me? Builders or blacks for example. If you're one of those, my advice is leave well alone. Good luck."
- Call Back: Chris mentioning his own heroin use at the end of the "Drugs" episode would be a reference to a Couch Gag from The Day Today, in which one of the episodes ended with Chris preparing to shoot up after all the studio lights dim down.
- Could This Happen to You?
- Cringe Comedy
- Department of Redundancy Department:
- 'The driving statue has also brought pennies from heaven. If you look for a doubt here, you won't find one here!'
- 'But for maximum reach; cake needed an actively political kick in the pills, and that's what it got from MP David Amess MP!'
- Executive Meddling — Michael Grade, who is, of course, a cunt
- Fun with Acronyms — Many times, at least Once an Episode.
- The "cake" campaigns were named F.U.K.D. and B.O.M.B.D.
- The Paedophile Special introduced "H.O.E.C.S. [video] games". Cue celebrities warning parents about paedophiles turning the pixels of a dog's eye into a webcam in these "hoax" games.
- "UK used to mean United Kingdom, but ask anyone today and they'll tell you it stands for Unbelievable Krimewave!"
- Good Victims, Bad Victims: At one point, a chat-show host draws a distinction between people with "Good AIDS" (caught from a blood transfusion) and "Bad AIDS" (caught from unprotected sex or drug-taking). He uses this logic to launch a ridiculous attack against a guest who turns out to have "Bad AIDS":
Host: What if a madman broke in here with a machine gun and shot you to pieces? Anyone here yawning would get your blood in their mouth!
- Government Drug Enforcement — The Drumlake Experiment, a school where children are sold medical-grade cocaine and heroin, amongst other things.
- Guns in Church: An exposť on on America's fascination with firearms focuses on "priests who pack a piece to keep the peace".
- Hello, Sailor! (the entire Royal Navy bit in the "Sex" episode)
- Morris as a Royal Navy spokesman, responding to the question "What's wrong with being gay?"
Commander Maharggs: Homosexuals can't... swim... they attract enemy radar, they attract sharks... they insist on being placed at the Captain's Table, they... get up late, they nudge people whilst they're shooting, they muck about... imagine the fear of knowing you have a gay man on board a boat, when you retire at night, you think to yourself, "God... will I wake up and find everybody dead?
- Inherently Funny Words — Every single acronym and character name on the show.
- Insane Troll Logic — Played for laughs.
- Kent Brockman News — Pretty much every example from that trope write-up.
- Manipulative Editing: Apparently, British radio presenter Nicholas Parsons read a poem written in tribute to an animal activism organisation wanting to help an elephant that has it's trunk stuck up its anus, that went, "Aren't we a bunch of fuckwits? An elephant could no more get it's trunk up its arse than we could lick our balls".
- Modern Minstrelsy — Satirised with an article from the crime episode highlighting the right wing white middle-class press and their fascination with racial profiling, in which a reporter goes "undercover" in blackface and promptly goes completely off the rails, and is shown mugging a woman hours later.
- News Parody — Faux News variation
- Nostalgia Filter: 'Jill and Sainsburgh McManus; are a rattly pair of old puffins who remember Cowsick in the days when people could still be trusted.'
- Literal Metaphor: 'And last year, the mayor gave them a goldmine. [cuts to the reporter standing next to a mineshaft inexplicably located in the middle of a council estate] It actually worked for a bit, this, until someone clogged it up with sick!'
- Overly-Long Gag — The last notes of the theme tune just keep on striking.
- Pśdo Hunt — Mercilessly satirised
- Prime Time News — Satirises the format, as well as that of Crimewatch UK in the paedophile special.
- Pun: "They don't deserve punishment. They deserve gunishment."
- Refuge in Audacity: Everything.
- Scare 'Em Straight — Parodied ruthlessly as ever in the "Drugs" episode. To convince a young girl to stay off of drugs for life, the school staff convince her parents to fake their deaths. And then they proceed to hold a fake funeral for them.
Priest: With one face, they presented to the world, an appearance of respectability, but with the other, they said 'ooh, goodie', let's pump ourselves full of 'magic monkey juice', because we'd rather, do that, than spend another minute with that, poor sod! *gestures to their daughter*
- Secret Test of Character:
Prison Warden: *points out of window to prison* That is my big shiny shoe, and you are the biggest piece of shit on it! *slams his foot on the desk* LICK yourself off my shoe. [quietly] Lick youself... off my shoe.
Prison Guard: [screaming] LICKYOURSELFOFFTHESHOE!
Prison Warden: *the prisoner leans down to the desk* Don't, actually do it! Where's your self re-cocking-spect?! Get out!
- Shaped Like Itself: During the Blouse segment, one of the band members holds up a card with "Card" written on it.
- Stealth Parody — Some viewers don't actually realise that it's a parody. The celebrities involved definitely don't notice.
- Stealth Pun: The school involved in the Drumlake Experiment, where students are given access to hard drugs, is a comprehensive school, also occasionally known as a high school.
- Subliminal Seduction: GRADE IS A CUNT
- Trash Talk — The needlessly aggressive news man (like everything else on the show) is taken to the extreme.
Chris: You're wrong, and you're a grotesquely ugly freak.
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: 'Room inspections are full of sneaky traps; like the brass moustache!'
- You Look Familiar: The extras are often also repeated, see above.
- Wretched Hive: Cowsick, apparently.
Ted Maul: For the cops, it's a jungle... where dangerous animals speak swearhilli!
- Writer Revolt — The aforementioned subliminal message.