ICYMI: Amy Matthews on Smack the Pony
Scottish Comedy Award Best Newcomer Amy Matthews sheds some light on seminal late-90s sketch show, Smack the Pony
On one of the rare occasions that Gold wasn’t showing Only Fools and Horses re-runs, I watched a series called We Have Been Watching, where contemporary comics watch classic TV comedy together and talk about it, Gogglebox style. I watched an episode and, amongst a lot of very familiar titles, one of the programmes was unfamiliar to me: Smack the Pony – a sketch show from Sally Phillips, Fiona Allen and Doon Mackichan.
Smack the Pony aired when I was 4, so that felt like a good excuse for not having seen it until I realised I was well versed in Monty Python, A Bit of Fry & Laurie and The League of Gentlemen. It just never entered my world in the same way as the others seemed to via Christmas specials or family members sitting me down in front of ‘an absolute classic’.
I’m so glad this article carved out the time for me to watch it. It’s fantastic. It absolutely holds up. Smack the Pony is refreshingly progressive, original and seemingly leaps ahead of its time.
It cleverly transitions between classic sketch set-ups to some really surreal, off-beat stuff without any clunky gear change. And, although I say classic sketch set-ups, I never mean predictable; there’s real originality and inventiveness to the sketches. It also successfully straddles the full spectrum of comedic tone, from punchlines about Rossetti's poetry to scenes where the joke is literally a burp. They impressively create such three-dimensional and original characters in what are sometimes ten second skits too.
A personal favourite was the incredible physical comedy of Doon Mackichan when she’s flailing about as a reiki healer, patting down a very confused and sceptical Sally Phillips. It’s a sketch that exemplifies a lot of what makes STP great: it confidently satirises and observes (here, making a very funny and scathing example of hippy health practices) whilst operating on a very visual level of physical and absurd comedy that even works with the sound off (Mackichan ludicrously rubs down Phillips and swings her around like a puppet, making noises like she’s giving an exorcism).
I’m amazed it hasn’t got the ubiquity of similar shows of its age and now seems as good a time as any to campaign for everyone to watch it – particularly because the series are available on demand.
Watching it refreshed my curiosity/frustration about why sketch is commissioned less on TV nowadays. It seems in the noughties and twenty-teens it fell out of fashion, yet within that time we’ve had a considerable shift in the way we consume media: we have a short collective attention span, requiring quick, ‘snackable’ content which surely favours sketch comedy. It feels like now is the perfect climate for a sketch revival, and rather encouragingly there are hints of it – Ellie & Natasia’s pilot and Lazy Susan’s BBC short were two of the funniest things I saw on TV this year.
Until this revival gets into full swing though, I’d recommend saddling up for some Smack the Pony.