“No cigarette smoke in here, Berry. You know the rules.”
“Well I never.”
“Well may be you should while it still works.”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing, I’m as happy as a man with tits in his hat.”
Welcome to world of Snuff Box, an incredibly twisted one at that. Created by Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher (having formed a worthy comedic alliance during their appearances on The Mighty Boosh) Snuff Box was originally broadcast on BBC Three during 2006 then eventually released on DVD in 2008.
In a sketch show where anal rape, suicide, death, graphic violence, foul language and The Old Grey Whistle Test are all fair game, it’s no surprise that it was relegated to the graveyard shift of TV schedules. Personally I couldn’t think of a better home for it than the subversive realms of late night television. But what is a shame is that there were only ever six episodes recorded. Refused a second series, Snuff Box was never really given a chance to flourish and find its true audience, which it eventually acquired through bootlegs and the internet until legitimately released on DVD.
The main set up follows the increasingly bizarre exploits of government hangman Matt (High Executioner To The King) and his American assistant Rich. When not fulfilling the duties bestowed upon them by the death penalty, Matt and Rich reside in the creaking leather Chesterfields of a whisky sodden gentleman’s club.
It’s around this demented universe that a series of strange plots, loosely related sketches and inspired moments of random weirdness joyously orbit. When Matt and Rich aren’t hanging criminals (all of which filmed inside a real execution chamber) they’re either writing hit pop tunes, constantly interrupted by the likes of Hendrix, Bowie, Adam Ant and Elton John, or occasionally walking through a magic door that leads to 1888. As you can imagine, it isn’t for everyone.
Deeply offensive and performed with a visceral, reckless energy, Berry and Fulcher revel in following their own strange comedic instincts. Transcending the lazy, catchphrase based humour of most modern comedy, Snuff Box doesn’t quite reach the irreverent menace of Chris Morris at his best, but it does have a pitch black edge all of its own. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy sketch show so preoccupied with death.
Not all of the sketches work but it does have some incredibly sharp, brilliantly written dialogue and some of the most articulate swearing I’ve heard since Withnail And I. With a brilliant, infectious theme tune and a great cameo turn from Alan Ford as an expletive spouting cockney priest, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at a modern sketch show.
As it completely flopped on its initial broadcast then later gained a faithful, enthusiastic following, Snuff Box has all the correct credentials to be referred to as a genuine lost cult gem. If you’re a fan of surreal, imaginative, dark humour that isn’t afraid to take risks then you should hunt down a copy of Snuff Box and save Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher from voice over hell.