Gavin & Stacey: How British Mundanity is Used for Comedy

Brown and grey – both unflattering colours and yet it’s the first thing we see during the pilot of Gavin & Stacey. Gavin (Matthew Horne), a 20-something office worker, twiddles his earring whilst on the phone to Stacey (Joanna Page), also a 20-something office worker. Grey office, brown walls. Despite the romantic concept – young love meeting for the first time after months of phone calls – the world around them suggests different. The monotonous everyday style of Gavin & Stacey is why the show works so well and has gained cult status amongst the BBC box sets. From the over-bearing mother-in-law to the family secrets that everyone avoids mentioning. Gavin & Stacey is quintessentially British, and its use of mundanity delivers the comedy, which is why fans have been demanding a reunion since the last episode in 2009. Lucky for fans their prayers were answered, with the creators of the show, James Corden and Ruth Jones, taking time out of their busy schedules to sit down and continue the story of Gavin & Stacey.

Despite the title featuring the main couple’s names, Gavin & Stacey is an ensemble comedy. Gavin and Stacey may be the focus of the show but they’re also the most boring characters. Writers, Corden and Jones give themselves the best characters on paper as the best friends of the couple – Smithy (Corden) and Nessa (Jones) – but it’s beloved actors like Rob Brydon and Alison Steadman who steal the show.

Rob Brydon’s Uncle Bryn is the kind of fun-loving and cringeworthy relative that we’ve all encountered at a family gathering. He’s someone who is amazed by the wonders of technology, like how you can sync up a computer to a printer and print off a map for directions. His sexuality is never defined, he lives alone in his 50s and he loves his DVDs of Brokeback Mountain and Sex & the City. There’s a possible involvement of a fishing trip gone wrong with his nephew Jason (Robert Wilfort), an openly gay man who lives in Spain but the exact details of the fishing trip have always been left to the imagination by the writers. Despite some fans pleading to the heavens that this year’s Christmas special reunion finally answers what exactly happened, it’s these kinds of answers that would ruin one of the show’s greatest running jokes.

Most of the dialogue in this show is about out-of-context situations that have never been mentioned before; it’s things like this that help the audiences believe in this world and these relationships. If they aren’t talking about Gavin, Stacey or anyone else in the family, they’re talking about ‘Little Dougie’ who used to steal cars or Roy who jumped off the top of Morrisons. It’s these types of odd comments that make the characters feel as if they have a life outside of Gavin and Stacey’s story. But these everyday conversations are also a large part of the comedy. Alison Steadman’s Pamela, Gavin’s mother, freaks out when Stacey and her family are invited to come down for a get together because she has completely forgotten to buy anything vegetarian. Gavin isn’t 100% sure that no one is vegetarian, so Pam forces her husband Mick (Larry Lamb) to pop to the shops just in case. Events get out of hand and inevitably Pam has to pretend she’s vegetarian. Throughout the series, Pam has to carry on this charade to avoid giving a bad impression. It may sound completely dull, but the mishap that follows has the tension of a spy movie as well as the direction of a screwball comedy.

Relatability is the key ingredient in Gavin and Stacey as there’s a sense of familiarity with the scenarios that the characters are living in. Most viewers will know the feeling of planning your wedding, searching for your first home or trying for a baby. Gavin and Stacey meeting a cocky, over-bearing estate agent during their look for a flat is a scenario that everyone has experienced one time or another. If that’s not enough, the flat itself appears larger in the pictures and the shower is connected to the kitchen via a built-in drain. It may be a hyperbole, but it’s these moments that Brits can connect to most. When they go to an Italian restaurant after Gavin and Stacey return from their honeymoon, there’s two perfect examples of the general and hyperbolic comedy being used at its finest. Pete (Adrian Scarborough) and Dawn (Julia Davis) – lifelong friends of Pam and Mick – are trying to spice up their sex life by organising a three-way with the much younger Seth. Although I’d assume most viewers haven’t also experienced this situation, the bizarre predicament of your closest friends and family walking into the restaurant where you’re attempting to organise a three-way is too odd to not find funny. Then when the family does decide to sit down, they spend ages ordering what they’d like to eat. “Come back to me” and “it’s between the gnocchi and the risotto” are common sayings for a British family gathering, which helps make us feel a part of this strange but loving family.

The moments of the show that define British culture are key for fans. During the original Christmas special, Nessa gives a little something for everyone to open at the same time, which turns out to be a different chocolate from a box of celebrations. Bryn celebrates with a Galaxy Truffle, Jason acts pleased with a Malteser, and everyone takes pity on Gwen (Melanie Walters) for having drawn the short straw with a Bounty. In fact, the 2008 Christmas special is the culmination of everything that makes Gavin & Stacey great. One of the finest little details for me however is when Stacey asks Mick where his presents are, him not knowing and telling her to ask Pam. That little exchange isn’t going for comedy but it’s a moment like that which summarises the brilliant relatability of this show. A husband not knowing where his Christmas presents are because his wife has clearly bought all the stuff supposedly from ‘both of them’ is something that every household can remember. Christmases as a kid weren’t complete unless your dad was in the corner smiling whilst drinking a cup of tea, having no clue whatsoever what is about to be opened, but staying on ‘Christmas wrapper duty’ anyway.

British comedy doesn’t go for over-the-top, it enjoys being simple. Not just writing what you know but what every Brit knows as well. Sitcom classics like The Office – which didn’t just gain popularity in America but also a nine-season remake – shows that this type of comedy can achieve success outside of our isles. There’s a clear reason for why Gavin & Stacey isn’t one of those, however – it’s too complex. Whilst The Office gets the lifeless aspect of working in an office perfect, as well as the attention-seeking boss, the interactions are always trying to achieve comedy rather than realism. Gavin & Stacey doesn’t try and seek out catchphrases like set-comedies such as Mrs. Brown’s Boys.Although quotes like “what’s occurring” and “GAVALAAAR” have been printed on merchandise, it has never become the show’s identity. There are numerous times when Corden and Jones could have used those quotes for a cheap laugh, but instead they make the quotes a part of the character, only being used when it would fit the conversation in real time.

Gavin & Stacey does at times create situations purely for comedy, the three-way meeting being one of them. But it’s most famous moments and the moments which give the show its identity is when the show isn’t trying to be anything at all, except the depiction of a young couple experiencing their normal lives with their oddball families. It’s a show that does so many things right and very little wrong, it doesn’t focus on one thing but everything that defines being British. It’s a show loved by all ages and I’m sure the anticipated Christmas special this year will be the highlight of many Christmases, especially when they start to go wrong. No matter what happens on Christmas Day however, the original series will always be one of the finest BBC comedies around and a show that can find the funny in being a boring Brit.

Gavin & Stacey will return to BBC One on Christmas Day at 8:30pm