Caroline Aherne was a stunningly funny comedian who co-created one of Britain's most loved comedy shows, The Royle Family — a series that depicted the trials and tribulations of one working class family often found sitting in front of the TV. (Not wholly unlike The Simpsons, but with Northern England accents.) It hardly seems possible that someone so vivacious and young is gone — but, tragically, reports released Saturday confirmed Aherne has died from throat cancer at the age of 52.
Remembering Aherne led me to a shocking revelation: Very few people in the United States are familiar with Aherne's work. As I'm British, this is amazing to me, because Aherne has such a distinctive comedic voice and she seemed to preempt a whole lot in mainstream comedy, from laughing about-slash-celebrating the vagaries of the female body to comedy that acknowledges class as a thing without being preachy or self-righteous about it. She was the patron saint of the everyday, and her satirical focus worked best when trained on situations we've all been in — like going to the supermarket.
In light of Aherne's tragic death, I figured it best to honor her by giving you all a primer to her work — which brings me to this great clip. In it, Aherne acknowledges the truth that the girl working the cash register at your supermarket probably knows far more about you than your therapist:
In under 30 seconds, Aherne's cashier girl has completely sussed her customer out. The customer's Perrier water marks them out as potentially pretentious and status-conscious (as does their choice of brown bread – "very posh") and they suffer from a number of health complaints, including poor digestion (potentially, suggested by the bread) and dandruff. Our cashier is quick to comment on each of these as vocally as possible. Part of the comedy is the fact that the customer isn't visible in the sketch, we can just see part of their back — as such, we as viewer become the customer, since we're positioned almost exactly in the customer's place, and we're forced to cringe along with them
Despite this, the comedy never feels mean-spirited. Its affectionate treatment of common issues ("nothing wrong with having a scabby scalp") preempts many current comedy shows in the way it accepts the human body and its common, minor ailments.
If you're all set for an Aherne marathon, check out Mrs Merton, The Royle Family, The Fast Show, and Gogglebox (the latter of which she most recently lent her narration talents). See you on the other side of your Aherne-viewing binge: America, you're so very welcome.
Image: Darran Ashton/YouTube