French & Saunders

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French & Saunders is a British sketch comedy television show starring and written by comedy team Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, and is also the name by which they are known on the rare occasions when they appear elsewhere as a double act.

Widely popular in the early 1990s (and now a cult classic), the show was given one of the highest budgets in BBC history to create detailed spoofs and satires of pop culture, movies, celebrities and art. French and Saunders continue to film holiday specials for the BBC, and are co-writers of the hit sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.

The show features a highly unusual style of humour, where many otherwise normal parody sketches are permeated with an underlying theme (which somewhat breaks the fourth wall) of the jealousy that French has for Saunders, and the superiority complex of Saunders.

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, they were voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.

History

The duo met in 1978 while attending college together and immediately began to collaborate on projects. Their first mainstream appearance was in 1982 in the British comedy program "The Comic Strip Presents", where they were featured in approximately 30 episodes each (and were also writers.) They began to establish themselves in what was referred to as the "underground comedy" scene, along with many other prolific actors and comedians like Alan Rickman and Miranda Richardson, people whom they would go on to work with for the next thirty years. From 1984 they appeared as comedy relief on the weekly Channel 4 music programme The Tube in which French had the honour of being the first person to use the phrase 'Blowjob' on UK TV.

In 1985 they collaborated on the program "Girls On Top", which they again wrote and starred in. Co-stars Tracey Ullman and Ruby Wax rounded out a set of four oddball roommates, and the show ran for two years. In 1986 they made their first of many appearances on the U.K. version of Comic Relief, and they signed a long-term contract with the BBC.

In 1987 the duo launched the program "French & Saunders," which has carried over six series up until present date. (In the United Kingdom, programs do not run in "seasons," but in "series," which usually consist of six full length episodes produced for any given year.) The show began humbly but immediately established its own niche as a spoof on other types of shows. In the first season it was set up to intentionally look like a low-budget variety show in which the two stars were constantly attempting grandiose stunts (and failing miserably.) Often times a "famous" guest star (usually a very b-list celebrity) would be brought on and then treated badly. Also featured during this season was a set of geriatric dancers and a bongos/keyboard music duo called "Raw Sex" (actually long-time collaborators Simon Brint and Rowland Rivron.)

As the series progressed and ratings skyrocketed the duo received higher and higher budgets with which to create elaborate parodies of mainstream culture. These ranged anywhere from recreations of films (Thelma & Louise, Misery, Titanic, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) to spoofs on popular music artists (Madonna and Bananarama being favourites.) Unlike many popular comedy performers actual catch phrases and repeated routines never surfaced; instead certain spoken phrases and sight gags that referenced previously-performed sketches (often from years before) were incorporated for loyal fans. (In particular there is a running gag suggesting that the duo are unable to accurately affect accents; this first appeared in their spoof of Gone With the Wind when they break character in the middle of an elaborate and expensive parody to argue about the authenticity of their Southern accent. Saunders goads French to try the accent by saying "How are you?" and French responds with a mangled interpretation: "Har URR Yer?" Since then they often break character in the middle of elaborate sketches to do an "accent check" and repeat these lines.)

Another unique aspect to the show is that it was permeated by a sense of awareness at all times that the viewer was actually watching a parody. Unlike many parodies that are done in a straightforward manner for effect, French & Saunders uses the viewer's awareness of what is going on to further stretch out the joke. In their parody of the Lord of the Rings films, an encounter by Galadriel (Saunders) and Frodo (French) is thrown off when Saunders delivers the line "Now I shall go into the West and diminish," to which French responds "What? I'm sorry, I don't...what?" "I don't know," Saunders replies: "It was in the book!"

As the two have parted somewhat to find great success apart from one another (Saunders with Absolutely Fabulous and French with The Vicar of Dibley) the two frequently reunite for Holiday specials on the BBC. A six-DVD boxed set of their work was released internationally.

One of the recurring themes is the Jennifer/Dawn house sketch. Dawn is on the other side of the door. When she knocks, Jennifer looks up and asks: " Who is it?" You can see Dawn's mouth through the hole of the letter-box. " It's me." " Who?" Asks Jennifer. " Me. Dawn French. Your comedy partner." Then the sketch would carry on with Dawn talking about what job she was doing/ was she was up to.

Other characters that make a recurring appearance are the bald, fat men (" I bet she wants some of that!"), Star Test (most memorable character is Sonia, played by Dawn) and Out and About ("I bet she do's tricks").

External Links

[French and Saunders Dot Com (http://www.frenchandsaunders.com/)]

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