Looking for some quality comedy entertainment to check out? Who better to turn to for under-the-radar comedy recommendations than comedians? In our recurring series Underrated, we chat with writers and performers from the comedy world about an unsung comedy moment of their choosing that they think deserves more praise.
When he was asked in a 2011 interview why it took so long for his show Snuff Box to come out on DVD in the U.S., co-creator Matt Berry simply said that when a show gets “canned” after six episodes, they don’t bother putting them out unless you ask them to. In fact, the show’s history is so enigmatic that Rich Fulcher, the other half of Snuff Box, had to confirm with Berry, “Wait, did we get canned? I didn’t know.”
Premiering in 2006 with little promotion, the part-sketch, part-narrative series — which to be fully appreciated should be consumed as a whole, like a great album, and not in snippets on YouTube — didn’t make a huge impact with audiences like some other British comedies of the time. But for many of those who have found it, it feels like belonging to an exclusive club not unlike the one that the two main characters belong to in the show.
One such duo who have a great appreciation for this three-hour piece of overlooked comedy is Rob Corddry and Brian Huskey. The pair cite Snuff Box as a major source of inspiration during their formative years of improv and sketch at the UCB theater during the 2000s. That may include using dark subject matter as a jumping-off point for the comedy, which can be seen in their Mr. Neighbor’s House series, which premieres its second edition this Sunday at midnight on Adult Swim.
Of all the sketch comedy that’s out there that you could have chosen to discuss, I am curious, why Snuff Box?
Rob Corddry: Snuff Box is probably one of the lesser-appreciated shows that Brian and I were watching when we were in the thick of improv training and doing shows every night at UCB.
Brian Huskey: It was like a cool band that we found at a time when we were doing our band, basically.
RC: We had also seen Rich Fulcher in an improv show in Austin, Texas, and I think I speak for the both of us when I say that the show blew us away. He’s so funny. It’s kind of amazing. He’s magic.
Snuff Box feels so fresh and original, even 12 years later, and I think part of that has to do with a unique format that blends together sketch and sitcom. Do you think that format plays into the fact that it is more obscure than some other comedies to come out of the U.K.?
BH: I think they owe a lot to Monty Python, not just because of the English thing but that idea of playing with the contrast of class and silliness, this kind of upper-crust environment, and dark elements. They created their own world that has certain rules that bounce around and recur. Same thing with Monty Python: “We’re just gonna have these sketches all linked together.” It’s a new take on that. Mr. Show does the same thing.
RC: Although Snuff Box is an evolution of that, it actually has an episodic narrative where the whole season tells a story — a very loose, basic story, but it’s not just that these guys are hangmen and there are sketches interspersed that connect. There’s also kind of a sitcom element to it. It’s a very strange format, and I think that it’s even more relevant today perhaps because genre is kind of disappearing for whatever reason.
BH: Everything you said is true, and it is that extension of running bits throughout not just one episode but a whole series. On Toast of London, Matt Berry has these long-running bits, like words he can’t say, or something with a nemesis, his competition.
RC: It’s hard to describe, right? Not just the literal format, but it’s hard to describe.
BH: They also just have weird stand-alone things that don’t connect, like Rich Fulcher’s “Rapper With a Baby.” Probably my favorite thing in the whole series.
They lay down their second, third, fourth beats of a joke in different episodes. Like Matt Berry getting beat up in the clothing store — instead of that being a single sketch, it’s spread across the series.
RC: And there’s a happy ending to that. He actually falls in love and they have a musical number at the end.
BH: Matt Berry seems to have a very particular thing. He’s kind of obsessed with the musical aspect of doing comedy. Those two guys, their voices coming together, that’s why it is so particular.
RC: Was this appreciated in the U.K.? I know those guys come from really big shows like Mighty Boosh, Toast of London. But was this a big show there?
BH: I think it’s sort of like our comedy community. It’s like how Seth Rogen is known in one way and then David Cross is known to other people in a very different, more specific way.
Rob, you’ve talked in the past about how your character in Hot Tub Time Machine is kind of a poet of bad language, and Fulcher is up to that challenge in Snuff Box, saying some phrases that I don’t think the human language had ever heard or expected to hear before.
RC: Even worse though, I think in every episode he says at least twice, “I gotta take a piss.” So crass, but even for someone like me that doesn’t mind bad language, “take a piss” is so gross.
I believe at one point he says, “I either gotta puke or piss, but I gotta piss.”
RC: [Laughs.] The reductive read of that is Rich is the crass American bore and Matt is the English aristocrat. But I don’t know what that is in service of. And who cares?
BH: That’s one thing I like — they almost work from a big idea and reduce it down to something super-specific. If this is a sitcom, they’re pairing two opposites who have to work together and then they blow those things out a little bit. If you break down the show, [it’s like] This is the sitcom part, this is the sketch part. They just mess with all the little elements of it in such a fun way.
Are there any characters or elements that stand out to you? Perhaps even ones who you’ve borrowed inspiration from?
RC: The “fuck you” guy, Matt Berry’s character who tries to pick up women and the moment she says “boyfriend” he says “fuck you” and destroys whatever he’s carrying. And I just recently watched the one where David Bowie comes into studio when they’re rehearsing and Matt knows who he is but Rich doesn’t and Rich calls him a “lady with a boy’s haircut” or something and asks him if his job is sucking the band’s dicks.
Then in another episode, it’s Jimi Hendrix and Rich laughs at him for holding the guitar wrong then says something racist to him.
RC: In Childrens Hospital, and in Mr. Neighbor I think, I’ve borrowed that absurd “Does this line make sense right after this other line?” vibe that Snuff Box and many other British shows of the time have.
BH: Also, that thing where you’re heading in one direction with the joke and you’ll jump over to another sudden turn. I remember thinking “Oh my God, you can do that?” They just sort of take the formula and then just make you feel something else or do something else.
Since seeing Rich Fulcher in Austin and then watching Snuff Box, you’ve both worked with countless funny people and certainly some of your inspirations. Have you worked with Fulcher at this point?
BH: We kept trying to get him into Mr. Neighbor and every time he’d say, “Yeah, I’m into it!” and then the timing would not work out. We were always trying to set that up.
RC: He was in the opening credits of the pilot.
BH: We had a moment of him and he was very funny. I see him at auditions, so we compete against each other.
RC: He did an episode of Childrens Hospital where he played Lola’s stalker boyfriend. He gets his head cut off at the end. We also did a video with him.
BH: Oh yeah! “Guided by Voices”! That is true. And we wanted to fit that into the interview, we wanted to talk about Guided by Voices. Nice segue. The thing that’s so funny about Fulcher is that he doesn’t look smart, he looks kind of weak in a sense, but he’s actually so smart and so powerful with knowing how he’s funny and how to use it. He’s adept with who he is and how to use his body and his voice.
RC: That Austin show we saw him in, I think it was called Modern Problems in Science, which they did a lot. They basically improvised a college lecture. I always thought of Rich Fulcher as this genius savant, and then I watched him in these British shows and realized he’s portrayed as these buffoons, which is really great. He went to law school. He’s a brilliant guy. And I love that he doesn’t give a shit about ever appearing as smart as he is.
BH: It’s brilliant to play dumb.
It’s also great to see him play off of Berry for three hours. What makes a great duo?
RC: Right before this interview I was thinking, “Why don’t me and Huskey do our own show like this?” It can have sketch and a through line and we can do whatever we want with it. We have all the tools, we can do it. We should do it! We have a history together, we love each other, we share the same sense of humor.
BH: We have to go to England, because in America they won’t accept two bald guys in a show. In England, they would. Not gonna fly here.
RC: That’s a great point.
BH: A lot of times, two ends of the spectrum ends up working out. I don’t know if it works out as far as fluidity in the process. They had two different vibes coming together, which is very satisfying.
How difficult is it to use dark subject matter in a comedy? Or does it actually help play into the humor?
BH: The way we approached Mr Neighbor’s House was we said, “Okay, what is his story?” Let’s unfold the story to people and have it track and not make fun of that. We want to be sympathetic to this character, so when he does do something funny you’re laughing as opposed to “Oh, it’s painful.” Then I think we would just find funny wherever we need it or as a response. But for me personally, we never said, “Let’s make fun of him being crazy.” (Director) Bill Benz said, “This is so fucked up.” And I said, “That’s what you think is funny about this show?” “Yeah, it’s so fucked up.” So for Bill, he was delighted by this whole other element.
RC: Rich and Matt played hangmen, and that idea, that they were to play hangmen as the bookends of this show, I don’t think came first. Their sense of humor tended to the dark and it would be appropriate for them to play something like hangmen — which is really funny, hangmen in a ridiculous situation — so I feel the same way about Mr. Neighbor. Our senses of humor and this story of this guy, who may or may not have created this show in his head, is intrinsically dark. He has created a completely fantastic universe that he lives in. Horror and comedy are siblings. It’s a fun place to go.
BH: They play hangmen, but it’s not about that. That’s a funny layer. A dark element of it. We definitely lean into, “Here’s the story of how fucked up he is,” which I think comes from our own excitement of being able to do that.
RC: It’s also really funny to see something scary on a comedy show.
BH: I felt very uncomfortable sometimes. “Does this feel like we’re making a horror?” I guess we are, kind of.