Chewing Gum: this is the future of comedy – and it's infectiously outrageous

From its sex clubs to its seedy zoophilia rings, Chewing Gum is always close to the knuckle – and it’s taking British comedy to gruesome, gleeful new heights

The second series of Chewing Gum was always going to be outrageous. In January, its creator and star Michaela Coel told the Observer: “I enjoy making people uncomfortable. For me, I don’t want to write a show that doesn’t make people uncomfortable.” And so it came to pass. The second series, which ends with a double bill this week, is even more close to the knuckle than the first, and somehow, it has managed to take this chaotic comedy to new heights.

Though there is still a need to deal with the fallout from her now-dead relationship with neighbour Connor, most of the second series has seen Tracey attempting to work out who she really is, and as a result, its world has grown. Taken only as a description of events, what happens sounds like the stuff of gritty drama. Tracey recalls trying to have sex with Connor in the disabled toilet at their homeless shelter, ending up half naked and covered in her own vomit. Tracey is charmed by a handsome stranger only to find that he’s a serial liar who fetishes black women. Tracey goes to a sex club and announces to the whole room that she is prone to vaginal thrush. Tracey becomes a dog-walker and uncovers a seedy zoophilia ring. You can’t say Coel didn’t warn us.

Will Tracey ever lose her virginity? All bets are off.
Will Tracey ever lose her virginity? All bets are off. Photograph: Mark Johnson/Channel 4

But the brilliance of Chewing Gum lies in its ability to make this all gruesomely, brilliantly funny, pushing boundaries only to gleefully burst through them and move on to the next misadventure, largely consequence-free. Coel has said it was important to her to write about an estate as a place you would want to live, and the Pensbourne Estate is always sunny, always primary coloured, and always a community. Like Broad City, the comedy here has an infectious lightness of spirit. Even if it all goes wrong, you just know it’ll be fine in the end, and everyone will have a laugh getting there, regardless. If Tracey pretends Stormzy is her boyfriend, of course Stormzy will turn up, and of course he’ll be mortally offended that he thought he was meeting a dying fan. The only thing worth dwelling on for Tracey, though, is whether she’s ever going to lose her virginity. (Four episodes into the second series, it isn’t looking likely, though the series culminates in a trip away from the estate, so all bets are off.)

Tracey becomes a dog-walker and uncovers a seedy zoophilia ring.
Tracey becomes a dog-walker … and meets Oral-ando, the pornographic dachshund. Photograph: MarkJohnson/Channel 4

It’s not just the Tracey show either. Her mother’s religious pursuits are often woven in, and are somehow ridiculous without ever being mocked; Coel has spoken of her evangelical past many times and there’s an innate understanding of what it can provide for people. Susie Wokoma is fantastically nasal and uptight as Tracey’s devout sister Cynthia, last seen attempting to marry a secretly gay sadist, and this series she looks suspiciously like she may be on the verge of a crisis of faith herself. Maggie Steed is genius, too, as best mate Candice’s nan Esther, whose experiments with online dating lead to a wildly out-of-control date outfit, then take a surprisingly sweet and satisfactory turn.

With some notable exceptions – Fleabag, for example, which is as rule-breaking as Chewing Gum but sees misanthropy instead of joy, and the similarly bleak depression-comedy Flowers – British comedy has been lagging behind its dramatic siblings in terms of inventiveness and originality. In Chewing Gum, there’s a vision of a new future: a unique voice telling vivid, human stories that aren’t focused wholly on white people, or on rich people, but a motley crew of chancers, trying their luck at every opportunity, and mostly failing, brightly and cheerfully. It’s been an absolute delight.

Chewing Gum finishes on Channel 4 on 9 February at 10pm, and is available to watch on All4.


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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