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Film and video art can be very funny, often whilst tackling very serious issues.

Humour becomes a way of introducing profound and personal subject matter to the viewer, with laughter as the catalyst. Politics and the world of media are lambasted in the stolen TV images of George Barber’s scratch video and low-fi advert recreations, The Story of Wash and Go (1995), for example. In the same vein, Cordelia Swann playfully undermines the myths of Hollywood with her subversive homage to famous films and their stars, as in Rita’s Dream (2001) and Maracas (2001).

Another way that film and video artists use humour to is by turning the camera on themselves. Without the aid, and expense, of actors the artist takes on a range of imaginary identities in a one to one monologue with the video camera. Ian Bourn uses this to hilarious effect in many of his video works, recounting the existential tales of the hapless Lenny in Lenny’s Documentary (1978)and the failed attempts of Terry to make a million by betting on the dogs in Sick as a Dog (1984). Through the nuance and rich detail of Bourn’s script and delivery the bleak tales of his hopeless characters are conveyed with warmth and humour. Ian Breakwell also uses the monologue address in his television broadcasts for Channel 4, Ian Breakwell’s Continuous Diary (1984) and Ian Breakwell’s Christmas Diary (1984). Presenting himself as a subversive television presenter Breakwell recounts the entries of his ongoing diary, also the subject of much of his paintings and drawings. His wry comic observations of daily life, from Christmas shopping on Oxford Street to the characters that he encounters on the bus, provide an insightful reflection on daily life. Many of Breakwell’s films use a strain of humour that could be related back to the bawdy comedy of variety theatre and the burlesque of the nineteenth century music hall. Nine Jokes (1971) uses short film sequences to deliver a series of rude quick fire gags, for example, whilst Variety (2001) reworks archive footage of silent comedy in a tribute to the vanished world of music hall humour. In Pieces I Never Did (1979) David Critchley uses himself as the test room dummy for a series of outlandish video performance works, which poke gentle fun at the seriousness attached to early formalist video art and allude to the futility of the creative act.

Ruth Novaczek explores the complexities of sexual and cultural identity through caricature in Cheap Philosophy (1992), in which she becomes her alter ego ‘depressed cynic’ Esther Kahn, and takes a comic look at what it means to be Jewish in Rootless Cosmopolitans (1990). John Smith uses humour both as a satirical play on the connotations between word and image in films like Associations (1975) and The Girl Chewing Gum (1976) but also presents a domestic world of gentle humour tinged with sadness in the imagined narratives of Black Tower (1985/7) and Slow Glass (1988/91). In more recent works such as Frozen War (2001) a monologue in a hotel room on the subject of the Iraq war communicates a sense of urgency whilst presenting a political issue from a personal perspective. The everyday is also a cause for humour in the visceral drawings of Ann Course, but it is humour of the darkest hue, in Black Magic (2002), for example, subjects from sunbathers to supermarket check outs take on a macabre aspect, enhanced by the relentlessly cheerful soundtrack. Patrick Keiller’s films London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997) also present a certain gallows humour whilst taking a jaundiced journey through the decayed landscape of Thatcher’s Britain, guided by the idiosyncratic commentary of an imaginary narrator.

Andrew Kotting’s films use an exaggerated and visceral characterisation which echoes the earlier slapstick of silent comedy, resembling Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in their use of physical humour. The outlandish scenarios and strange worlds that he creates in films such as Hub Bub in the BaoBabs (1989) and This Filthy Earth (2001) mix raw humour with a dark vision of the landscape. However, Gallivant (1996) presents a touching and gently humorous portrait of family relationships as it follows the journey of his daughter Eden and grandmother Gladys around the coast of Britain.

The Story of Wash and Go

The Story of Wash And Go

A lo-fi dramatisation of Vidal Sassoon's momentous, groundbreaking invention of the shampoo Wash and Go.

Rita's Dream

Rita's Dream

'Rita's Dream' is the first of three pieces that have been screened singly or as a three-screen installation.



Two Latin men shake their maracas expectantly as Ava Gardner walks through the door with a bowl of water.

Lenny's Documentary

Lenny's Documentary

Lenny recounts the script for an imaginary documentary on his life and environment.

Sick as a Dog

Sick as a Dog

The downward spiral of a dog racing gentleman.


Ian Breakwell's Continuous Diary

Televisual diary entries celebrating observations on the 'side events of daily life'.


Pieces I Never Did

Talking to camera, I described ideas that had never got beyond a note in a sketchbook.


Cheap Philosophy

Miserable performative queer comedy.

The Girl
Chewing Gum

The Girl Chewing Gum

An authoritative voice-over directs the events on a London street. Or does it?



Patrick Keiller's extraordinary portrait of London re-imagines the city through the explorations of an unseen 'researcher' Robinson

Filthy Earth

This Filthy Earth

Partly based on Emile Zola's classic novel, 'La Terre'.

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