“This sick saddo is beyond a jerk” – just one of the many way Chris Morris, dubbed the most hated man in Britain, has been described by the UK press. Usually it was for vicious satire and a dealing with so called ‘taboo subjects’ in his series ‘The Day Today’ and ‘Brass Eye’. His shows received a stratospheric number of complaints and hate. All in all, he’s a comedian who is by no means afraid of the dark, and he’s not definitely not afraid of pissing people off.
But that’s not what i’m taking about right now. Right now, I’m talking about ‘Jam’.
A huge number of people don’t now or don’t remember this show, and those that do usually love it. So I guess it’s fair to say that it has a cult following. Morris’ comedy revolves around dealing with things we’re afraid to say, in the programmes listed above he’d mock how the media deal with life the universe in anything. Yeah sure, sometimes that meant talking about paedophiles, war and drug abuse – but he was taking a look at the UK in the mid 90s and saw what was around him.It wasn’t the subject matter he was making light of, it was the way media and public domains dealt with it. It’s my opinion that anything Chris Morris mocked, was something that we as an audience were guilty of. But like I said they aren’t what i’m here to talk about. Because as strange as Morris’ comedy was, there was nothing more thoroughly surreal then a sketch show he wrote and directed in 2000. ‘Jam’.
It’s quite hard to explain. You ca find most episodes on YouTube or some other way and really seeing it is the best way to make up your mind about it. It’s based on a radio show he created called ‘Blue Jam’ in 1997 which played in the early hours of the morning – sounding ambient melodies and reciting strange and dark sections of prose or poetry, although really it defies either of those labels. The transferal to TV only meant that Morris now had visuals to deal with, something I think actually enhances the premise. The sketches would usually be short, and every episode would begin with a prologue of nonsensical yet somehow frighteningly meaningful poetry (again ‘poetry’ is just the closest term I can think of.) That, along with the ambient soundtrack which plays during most of the sketches, is faithful to the original radio show – the transference essentially seemed like a chance for Morris to expand.
As for the content. Well.
The first thing I noticed about ‘Jam’ is that I didn’t understand a lot of it. But I like surrealism so i’m used to that constant feeling of ‘wait what?’ Even from the get go, one of the prologue’s to an episode includes a man waking up in a park with flies in his mouth and being driven by children to his Ex-wife’s door – all the while under the influence of very strong drugs. Another intro has a woman raving to the sound of a life machine supporting her day old baby. The one that got me most was where an alcoholic is driven to the Fens (an area in England) and made to wrestle pigs by farmers who play instrument made out of toys and animals. It feels dark. From the very start there’s a dark undertone. It feels like horror. Surreal horror.
The surrealism in it is clear as day, many of the sketches revolve around nonsensical jokes – such as lizard pouring out of a couples TV set, or pure black humour – such as one where a small girl acts as a hitman/expert in disposing of bodies. One theme that’s common is that you often won;t laughing at the end of them. I often ended up with my mouth hanging open. And really that’s what it’s like, as if you’re in a trance – along with the music and the visuals too. Those visuals blur and contort, often as if you’re watching a home film. On the DVD version there’s even a ‘special’ option which plays the scenes in a random way – sometimes it’s so small you can’t even see it, others it’s just covered in static. The whole thing feels sensual, visceral – appealing to your bare retinas and the nasty shapes your brain makes after seeing it.
The reason i’d class it as ‘horror’ is that many of the sketches are sinister in their content. Like I said, I very rarely laughed out loud, and while I would say parts are funny, overall I watch it for it’s weirdness. One sketch i particular that caught me off guard is one where a woman calls a plumber to fix her stillborn baby via piping. I mean come on. so much of it is insane. But there are plenty of sections that give you chills, that make you shiver a bit. Sometimes it may just be an expression of one of the actors or Morris himself. There’s no doubt that ‘Jam’ is scary to watch. You’re left with this unbelievable sense of disturbance, as if your small world has been intruded upon by a slithering, malevolent force.
But at the same time I felt completely enthralled watching it. I couldn’t keep my eyes away as I tried to make sense of what was going on. Like I said, it’s sensory. The music, the cameras, the content, it all comes together in a distinct style that’s like a terrifyingly exaggerated version of the wave of odd-ball comedies that swept the UK in the 90s. Even the editing warps the content, where sometimes scenes are played in slight slow motion, so you you know something is wrong with the actors but you don;t know what. t feels like a trance but it’s one that varies. There are high and low points like any other experience – moments of relief and moments of depression. It’s more of a drug trip through a disturbed mind rather than a cliched romp through a horror franchise. Not everything is horrible and to be honest not everything is confusing. Sometimes you just get a feeling from a sketch and you can;t explain it. I’ve never really had a show do this before.
While there’s no actual theme or coherence to the content of the sketches, and it’s most likely that the whole thing is like a random information dump of Morris’ thoughts, I do have my own theory about what ‘Jam’ is. For me ‘Jam’ is another way of saying ‘let go’. The poem at the start of each episode usually lists horrible or surreal situations with characters whose lives are at an all time low, yet there is a catharsis in their madness. Each one always ends with “Then welcome – to jam.” It’s like Jam is a place, a state of mind. It seems like the place you go to when you’re life seems unbearable. A dark place where your thoughts twist into awful shapes and whimsical ones. It’s like Morris is describing the sensation of reaching the very bottom of life and not knowing whether to laugh or scream, so he does both. Hence why the show’s content is distorted, surreal, dark and yet cathartic in it’s process. It’s like deciding to go buy cheap vodka and walk around in the early hours of the morning looking for something you’ve forgotten. It surrealism comes as the result of letting go of logic and confinement, and just being with your unadulterated thoughts. ‘Welcome to Jam’, for me, means ‘let go’. Jam is not the lowest place you can go, it’s the place after it.
Though like I say this is entirely my own interpretation, and i’m fairly sure it’s not what Morris had in mind when creating it. But when I watch it, it definitely feels cathartic in some way. It defies explanation and convention, therefore the show is utterly original and of course, utterly surreal. It’s experimental, and if nothing else, you can’t fault him for that. The most hated man in Britain has simultaneously been hailed as a creative genius for his work, so I guess as usual it’s up to you to decide which one you think he is.