As most people around the world can tell you, the concept of a “cultural awakening” often goes hand-in-hand with your teenage years. As you shape your identity around your emotions and the environment around you, you tend to get the urge to explore, experience, and enlighten. However, for my generation, the idea of the cultural awakening goes far beyond that of sharing records and picking up a few hobbies: we witnessed high-speed internet becoming a household commodity, Netflix’s disc-by-mail and streaming service opening doors to thousands of films not found at your local video store, and social media changed the fact of human interaction in general. While we will still never really know the full extent of how these changes shaped our generation as a whole until we’re closer to our parents in age, this writer can speak personally in how seismically this shift in media crafted his cultural awakening…and how it all led me to a television series that would change my life.
As a teenager, my cultural awakening was defined by two simple urges: a penchant for the different, and a penchant for the extreme. The latter was, simply put, a personal litmus test for my cultural threshold, as I wanted to find movies, music, and television that could legitimately resonate with me and my teenage faux “tough guy” disposition. The former, however, was something a bit more integral to my personality, as I’d always been a bit of a weirdo and I found so much joy in the weirder side of media, such as the music of Frank Zappa, the movies of Troma, and the many bizarre programs on Adult Swim. So, throughout my teenage years, I would spend many a-hour trying to find the weirdest and craziest things to consume, whether it be odd midnight movie fare, transgressive foreign cinema, or literature by people who were, seemingly, out of their fucking mind.
By the time I was 19, I was still looking for the next envelope-pushing and generally surreal piece of entertainment, especially as I was now spearheading the Montclair State University Film Club and had found myself a merry band of like-minded individuals. But at this point, we’d seen so much that we didn’t know how much further we could go: Italian Cannibal Flicks, Ultraviolent Korean Revenge Thrillers, French New Extremity, and Sobering American Satires had all become old hat at this point. But as I sleuthed through various message boards and news articles, I discovered a title that I’d never heard before: Christopher Morris’ Jam.
In retrospect, it is kind of strange that I’d never previously heard of Jam: by the time I learned about the show, it had been out for 8 years and Morris himself had become fairly prolific in his native country of the United Kingdom. Yet the show had never legally made its way stateside, and aside from a couple skits available on Youtube at the time, it was a fairly difficult show to find. Hell, it was even hard to find any U.S. press about the show, even from the varied movie websites and cultural hubs I’d frequented throughout my teenage years. So, never one to back down from a challenge, I took it upon myself to check out Jam, and see if the hype about this show- described as “the darkest comedy in television history”- was to be believed.
After tracking down a copy of the imported DVD and a region-unlocked DVD player, I watched all six episodes of Jam. For three hours straight, I bounced between fits of hysterical laughter and moments of jaw-dropping madness, seeing as every dark and disturbing subject matter was spun in the most rich and unbelievably hilarious fashion. From dead children to suicide to bestiality to incest, Jam not only was willing to make light of the taboo, but do so while acknowledging just how dark the subject matter is, as the show is often structured with surreal transitions, experimental cinematography, and an opening title sequence that would give David Lynch nightmares. If there was a cult that worshipped at the altar of Jam, I was instantly a member, and I needed to share this experience with as many people as I could.
I quickly began to champion Jam among my friends, sharing some of its many morbid and macabre sketches to gauge their reaction. Oddly enough, the show would slay almost everyone I’d shown it to, playing to hard laughs and reluctant guffaws as each skit would reveal its dark intention and then twist it into humor. Soon enough, I realized that Jam wasn’t just a flash in the pan or something solely for those who cut their teeth on Tim and Eric or the films of John Waters. Jam was something special, unique, and potentially the most dangerous comedy I had ever seen, and easily redefined what sketch comedy could be.
But beyond the shocking and strange elements on display in Jam, what makes the show so damn unique (and tragically underseen) is Morris’ unbridled comedic genius, even at his most visceral and juvenile. Perhaps the best example would be a skit dubbed as “suicide with an escape clause,” which is presented like an experimental documentary in which a distraught man gives a testimony about a man who throws himself off a first-story balcony…over and over and over again. As we spend two minutes watching this man drop multiple times from the balcony, as a crowd begins to gather and even help him up to do it again, the punchline hits us: rather than throw himself off the top of the building once, he decided to jump off the first floor 40 times, in case he wanted to change his mind.
As dark and demented as Jam can be, the absurdity of it all is often what saves it from becoming fodder for the depraved. Morris’ sense of authorship over the material is in how utterly insane every concept is, and in fleshing these concepts out completely straight-faced, the humor hits you like a punch in the gut. Combined with the eerie, dream-like presentation of it all, some of which is intended to actively push its audiences’ buttons, Jam almost feels like Monty Python meets Silence of the Lambs through the anarchy-fueled lens of the Dogme ‘95 movement, which in itself is an absurd notion.
Yet, nearly 10 years later, Jam has still yet to find a proper exhibition here stateside, even if almost all of the series is available (in dubious-at-best legality) via video hosting sites such as YouTube. While the show certainly doesn’t have the mainstream appeal as many of the imports that are commonly consumed by American Anglophiles via BBC America or Netflix, such as The IT Crowd (which featured Morris as a series regular in its first season), Sherlock, or even Jam contemporaries Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Snuff Box, Jam has been a bit too far out for U.S. networks, even those who have produced the likes of Wonder Showzen and Rick and Morty. Meanwhile, Morris’ status has grown in the U.S. as well, with his terrorism satire Four Lions gaining controversy and critical acclaim back in 2010 while his series’ NATHAN BARLEY and BRASS EYE have garnered a sizeable following in U.S. comedy fandom.
But, culturally speaking, now is a better time than ever for someone to bring Jam to the U.S., as the runaway popularity of Black Mirror has established a credible stronghold for threshold-breaking content among American audiences and cable television is rivaling premium outlets in terms of adult-oriented content. Hell, even the glut of streaming services could wear Jam as a badge of honor in terms of bringing a cult oddity to U.S. audiences. And, in all honesty, it’s about time that the show, now over 17 years old at this point, find a home for U.S. viewers that doesn’t require legally curious means.
Furthermore, the show’s expert balance of horror and comedy has never been more accessible than it has been today. The audiences for genre-hybrid content have grown exponentially, especially on the television space where shows such as Santa Clarita Diet and Twin Peaks can thrive, and general audiences have become more comfortable with harder and more controversial content: just look at the success of Deadpool, Family Guy, and American Horror Story to see how valuable shock value can be. Even satire, where Jam might most easily find categorization, has become more commonplace in the politically-charged times of today.
Will Jam ever become a comedy sensation here in the U.S., should the show potentially find a suitable network or distributor to bring it across the Atlantic? Absolutely not; Morris’ brand of comedy is divisive at best, and there’s a good chance that even the most desensitized viewer might find themselves gasping at some of Jam’s skits. But could the show find new life, given a new platform and the social media savviness of today’s audiences? It’s quite possible, but until then, you can either do some digging and find this shocking sketch comedy series, or Jam will remain the most twisted show you’ve never seen.