A very anglo-saxon form of comedy, the Theatre of Embarrassment makes one squirm as well as laugh, and the laugh is often through gritted teeth. It is hard to watch and even harder to believe, yet it unfolds before your very eyes, arch and formal as Kabuki, visceral as a knife-fight in an alleyway.
When Norman Gunston asks Warren Beatty if “it’s true Miss Carly Simon wrote that song about you…?…The Impossible Dream…?” or mentions en passant to an interrupting Linda McCartney “It’s funny, you know, you don’t look Japanese,” you are at The Theatre.
When Larry and Cheryl David, in Curb Your Enthusiasm, drop in on an old acquaintance for what they assume is a cocktail party (actually, they are late for an intimate dinner), refuse to remove their shoes, are regaled by host Gil on his adventures in porno films, break a vase, are turned out, and then have to return for a mislaid watch, you are at the Theatre.
When Sean Micallef mock-interviews the first blind man to climb Everest and then finds fault because his guest is only legally blind…not “morally blind“, or, having blasted Australian Woman’s Tennis as worthless, asks a competitor about Anna Kournikova with a foolish grin, you are front-row in The Theatre.
When Borat asks a feminist group if they are familiar with Kazak research that establishes that “woman has brain the size of squirrel”, you’re front row and centre.
When Alan Partridge (“A-ha!”) insults, or bores, the entire human race, you’ve a box seat.
And when David Brent totally undermines a forum on people skills and gives a far-from-impromptu concert with acoustic guitar, you are at The Theatre of Embarrassment, where laughter and pain occupy the same seat.