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When we think of fandom, we tend to conjure an image of cosplayers, convention-goers, or fanfiction writers. We think of Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Harry Potter, and Twilight. We don’t think of British comedies. And yet, the darkly funny, relentlessly miserable, and frighteningly relatable sitcom Peep Show has a cult following like no other.
I first encountered this fan community a couple of years ago when a friend recommended the Facebook page, ‘Dobby Club’, which is now a thriving hub of all things Peep Show-related including events and merchandise. My friend and I had just started living together and soon bonded over our mutual love of the show – and so the endless cycle of binge-watching began. Looking back, the irony of two friends trying to navigate the highs and lows of life in their late twenties while enjoying a comedy about this exact premise isn’t lost on me.
I was surprised to discover that the show had such a prolific online fandom (or any for that matter). I had never really identified as a diehard fan and in my ignorance thought those fan communities were for lovers of sci-fi and fantasy, not British comedies. How wrong I was. I loved watching the show on Channel 4 back in the day, but until I started following ‘Dobby Club’, I didn’t realise the extent of Peep Show’s cult appeal.
Ever since the fandom has brought me non-stop entertainment every time I scroll through my Facebook feed. Seeing myself as part of a fan community has transformed the way I relate to the show. It’s not just something I watch on Netflix now and then; it’s become part of my daily life.
The Peep Show fandom is a social experience, both online and offline. Its online presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram involves a regular dose of Peep Show memes mixed with current affairs and general silliness. The recent chaos of lockdown and the UK government’s response to COVID-19 has provided endless ammunition for meme makers, whose artistry has offered moments of light relief amid the uncertainty of life in a global pandemic.
There is also the Peep Show podcast, ‘Podcast Secrets of the Pharaohs’, which reviews individual episodes and has featured special guests including Robert Webb, one half of the show’s comedy duo.
Offline, ‘Dobby Club’ sells merchandise and organises Peep Show-themed quizzes, bingo, and club nights hosted by the actor Liam Noble, who plays Big Mad Andy (Mark and Jez’s big, mad and very cheap decorator). I attended one of their Peep Show parties in Manchester last year and it was one of the most bizarre but brilliant nights out I’ve ever experienced. The attention to detail was something to behold, from the club décor to the cocktail names. In lockdown, ‘Dobby Club’ has moved its activities online and has been keeping fans entertained with weekly quizzes.
What strikes me about some of these fan activities is the sheer pleasure that can be gained from flexing your knowledge and unleashing your inner nerd – like knowing exactly which quote from the show would fit perfectly with a certain meme or knowing the answer to an obscure quiz question. Peep Show is undeniably cult and platforms like ‘Dobby Club’ and ‘Podcast Secrets of the Pharaohs’ are onto a winner because they pitch to this exact audience.
You must be in on the joke to fully appreciate these activities and you can only be in on the joke if you are aware of Peep Show’s cult status. The fandom relies on the assumption that its community are not just fans but super fans who know the show inside out and are addicted to an endless cycle of rewatching until they die – and they’re spot on.
The age of the fandom is also noticeable. Peep Show’s cynical tone has proven to be a hit with an audience of Millennials and Gen Zs. Its topical humour seems to be popular with an increasingly politically-minded young audience living through the turbulent era of Trump, Brexit, and the ever-growing bin fire that is 2020 – which is why its memes are perfect for satirising current affairs ranging from coronavirus to climate change.
The ‘Dobby Club’ events take place in major cities and university towns targeting students and young professionals, which is unsurprising considering how much partying takes place in the show. Although David Mitchell might be the last person you would associate with a night out in Manchester, there seems to be something inherently cool and edgy about this comedy and its bizarre mix of nerdiness and hedonism.
The fan activities are welcoming whether you’re a self-confessed social freak like Mark or a party animal like Jez. It’s difficult to imagine this kind of fandom working for British comedies that have a mainstream appeal like The Office or Gavin and Stacey.
I have often questioned why Peep Show has such a booming fan community in the first place. Being part of the fandom is such a positive experience which is strange considering how depressing and hopeless the show is. It’s a comedy about relentless misery with excruciating moments of cringe, from eating a dead dog to pissing yourself in church, and yet there is so much pleasure to be gained from reliving these moments with fellow fans.
Peep Show is genius because it hits the sweet spot between comedy and tragedy and good and bad taste that is at the heart of all great sitcoms.
There is no laughter track with an audience cheering the characters on. There is no lasting happiness for any of its characters. The characters never get what they want and nor do they deserve it. As anyone who has watched the show will tell you, Mark and Jez are pretty terrible people.
If its comedy moments are unbearably cringed, its tragedy moments are devastating but ultimately relatable. Losing the love of your life or your dream job, sabotaging your own happiness, feeling regret, failure, and self-loathing are painful but realistic aspects of life, and Peep Show isn’t afraid to go there.
It gives us permission to laugh at, with, and despite our own misery in a way that’s cathartic. The fandom allows us to continue the laughter beyond the show and creates happiness from these dark moments.