In the mid 1980s, long before the days where Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer became the well-known and much-loved surreal comedy duo they are today, Jim Moir was making a name for himself performing one man comedy stage shows in London. Such a name for himself, in fact, that he chose not to stick with his own. While Moir enjoyed varying his moniker frequently, he eventually settled on ‘Vic Reeves’, originally naming his show Vic Reeves Variety Palladium.
The show was a parody of the variety showcases so popular in prior decades, with Vic assuming the role of host (referring to himself as ‘Britain’s Top Light Entertainer’), introducing a variety of absurd characters (often also played by Reeves) and obscure performances. Reeves was often joined on stage by Fred Aylwood, playing his mute, eccentric, lab coat-wearing assistant, Les.
This stage show eventually evolved into Vic Reeves Big Night Out, which Reeves performed at The Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross, south east London. It was here that he caught the imagination of a young Bob Mortimer, who was working as a solicitor at the time. It is told that Mortimer was transfixed by Reeves’s high-octane character comedy, going to see the show every week, and eventually taking part in the action himself.
2018 was a solid year for British comedy on television. We had a deluge of excellent new sitcom series, particularly those with teenage protagonists, from the Northern Irish school kids of DerryGirls to Conor and Jock of TheYoungOffenders and Gloucestershire cousins Kerry and Kurtan in ThisCountry. Dark and surreal comedy has also been thriving, with the return of Inside No. 9 and Flowers, and also Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out. This article will explore 2018’s TV comedy highlights (let’s just forget about that TheInbetweeners reunion, shall we?)
The fourth series of Inside No. 9, which broadcast at the start of January, certainly lived up to past instalments. The anthology series (created by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton) dabbled in Shakespearean comedy, dark and twisted mystery and heart-breaking trips down memory lane. On Halloween, a special ‘live’ episode aired, which was a half hour of comedy that certainly divided its viewers (that is, those who didn’t accidentally tune out before the end…).
Another stand-out programme that no doubt every fan of dark comedy has watched this year is The End of the F****** World, which originally aired on Channel 4 in 2017 but was released on Netflix in January 2018. With short twenty-minute episodes, vibrant characters and unexpected plot developments, this series is a punchy rollercoaster unlike anything else. With a new series expected later this year, this is certainly not the last we will hear from murderous teens James and Alyssa.
February saw the return of ThisCountry; one of the greatest new comedies of recent years. This mockumentary series about the lives of teenagers in rural areas has plenty unbearable moments of awkwardness that rival Ricky Gervais’ TheOffice. But the message is a rather sad one; these teenagers are limited in opportunity and experience. But Kerry and Kurtan (played by siblings, and writers of the show, Daisy May and Charlie Cooper) are, unsurprisingly, the stars of the show. Their childishness, pettiness and naivety is what makes This Country a stand out. The dialogue is always unexpected, which brings the hilarity, but all the while the message behind the humour really packs a punch.
Flowers is a truly beautiful tragic comedy. it picks up on family rifts, personal anxieties and implications brought about by mental health issues, alluding to them incredibly subtly in the characters’ actions and words. Series two, which aired in June, showed each character’s gradual demise to be looming ever nearer, often making for an uncomfortable watch (especially when our concern changes focus and hones in on Shun, who is struggling to come to terms with the loneliness he faces in this strange, foreign place). Flowers features stunning comic performances from Olivia Colman, Julian Barratt and Will Sharpe (who also writes and directs).
In July, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse brought us the hilarious and wholesome GoneFishing; a documentary series for BBC2 about the beauty of natural wildlife and the importance of looking after our health. The two legendary comics (both now bordering on 60) have had their fair share of health scares in recent years, with both having experienced major heart problems that gave them a bit of a re-awakening. Mortimer and Whitehouse are clearly great friends and their shared humour makes this programme a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
And who could miss the return of Vic and Bob in Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out at Christmas? This revamp of Reeve’s old show format is exactly what we would expect from the absurd duo, with the addition of some up-to-date satirical references (featuring the likes of Piers Morgan and Donald Trump), as well as a visit from George Ezra. But some old favourites are back, including Graham Lister, The Man With The Stick and The Stotts.
So now that we’re comfortably into the flow of a new year, we can really start to look forward to what’s to come in terms of comedy on our TV sets (or laptops, or smartphones, or tablets, or microwaves). In 2019 we will be treated to new instalments of Inside No. 9, The End of the F****** World, ThisCountry and GoneFishing. Other returning programmes include a final series of Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe as well as a TV series of vampire mockumentary film What We Do in the Shadows. But for now, perhaps a re-watch of some of the programmes above from 2018 will help fight the January blues.
Reeves and Mortimer mature like a fine wine. They somehow manage to out-do themselves with every programme they create, and building on the foundations of shows like Big Night Out and Shooting Stars, that truly is some feat. Series one of House of Fools was a comical violation of the senses, in the most enjoyable way imaginable. A fool would assume it couldn’t get any better. But it has.
This second series has shown the group really cement themselves as a unit, if a rather dysfunctional one, which gives the comedy so much more meaning and vigour, and the addition of Julie’s Bistro downstairs provides an interesting new dynamic. Rachel, Erik’s straight-talking Norwegian girlfriend, is a new character and is played by Ellie White. She fits into the group effortlessly and the possibility of Rachel just becoming a reflection of Erik’s character is successfully avoided, as she is the centre point of jokes from her very first appearance (such as her fear of non-flat things, which Bob inadvertently brings to the surface).
Dan Skinner continues to bring elements of his hysterically funny stand up character Angelos Epithemiou to his performance as Vic’s younger brother, Bosh, and similarly, Matt Berry approaches the character of Beef in his typical smooth-voiced and flamboyant style. These talented actors have certainly worked out who they are in terms of performance and this is expertly picked up on by Reeves and Mortimer in the character development and sharp script writing. And then we have Julie. Julie is absolutely magnificent. She is bewildering, extravagant and outrageous yet has the depth of a wholly decent character at the same time. Morgana Robinson’s performances truly are a sight to behold, with her enthusiastic slapstick and unpredictable line delivery, particularly regarding her temporarily tiny hands.
From the strange interpretations of celebrities like Bruce Forsyth and Alistair McGowan, to the arrival of The Butcher Boys, a dance trio made up of Tom Davis, Tony Way and Romesh Ranganathan, to the appearances of Sally Phillips, Simon Farnaby and Rufus Jones, amongst others, it can’t be denied that this programme is diverse. As well as the new energy in the cast, the fact House of Fools is recorded in front of a live audience adds something extra special to the performance, especially as they are seen at the beginning and end of episodes when the camera pans out. Fans of Vic and Bob do not sound like your average laughter track; they are boisterous, enthusiastic and clearly having a bloody enjoyable time. This homemade feel is enhanced by the decision not to remove the frequent corpses and mistakes made by the cast, which often highlight how preposterous the plot is and remind us that a great deal of the script is semi-improvised.
House of Fools is a microcosm of insanity and childishness. When Beef announces that his black cape is “made of the nighttime,” nobody bats an eyelid. When Vic proposes to save Bob’s underwear from a giant moth by shooting it dead, Bob dismissively sighs: “Vic, I don’t want my panties covered in shot.” It always has been and always will be an absolute joy watching these two fantastic comedy minds working together, and seeing them have so much fun in the process. Vic and Bob have unlocked a door to a phenomenally wacky and unsettlingly funny parallel universe, and I want to stay there forever.
The Christmas period presented multiple comedy gems to our television screens last month, and here is a summary of a few of my particular favourites:
Ricky Gervais’ Derek reached its natural conclusion with a wedding, a fight and a baby. Gervais has shown a great subtlety in his writing that I had not noticed in his other projects that often displayed, in fact, quite the opposite. I found the episode to be dealt with sensitively and with great humour, with the character of Derek remaining endearing yet dignified throughout, as was noticeable from this year’s series two. Available on 4OD.
House of Fools
House of Fools has been one of my favourite sitcoms since it first aired in early 2014, as it is written by, and stars, the incredible Vic and Bob. This Christmas spectacular presented many problems for the duo: Erik has demanded a particular bobble hat for his present but it has been set on fire. The strange gathering must set off to steal a replacement, and meet Father Christmas (Reece Shearsmith) on the way. Available on BBC iPlayer.
Not Going Out
Not Going Out has been consistently and delightfully cringe-worthy with frequent small laughs and a few brilliant lines per episode (and there have been an impressive seven series, so that’s some great feat). This final episode did not disappoint, and audiences were finally given an answer to the age-old question: will Lee and Lucy ever actually become a couple? Available on BBC iPlayer.
Richard Ayoade returned with a Gadget Man’s Guide to Christmas with special guests Adam Hills, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Merchant, Jonathan Ross, Reece Shearsmith and Robert Webb. With a wonderful array of toys and vehicles and strange household items, Ayoade presented us with an entirely new take on Christmas gifts and dinners. Available on 4OD.
Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe
Charlie Brooker brought his infamous positive little rays of sunshine to Christmas by overviewing a seemingly awful year for everyone in the entire universe. From Farage to Ebola, Charlie’s typically sarcastic and cutting commentary overed it all, with help from Barry Shitpeas and Philomena Cunk. I should probably warn off people who are prone to depression from watching this programme but Brooker’s wit really takes the edge off, as does the wonderful song at the end. Available on BBC iPlayer.
Man Down has to be one of my favourite new sitcoms from the past couple of years because it stars a couple of my most loved comedians: Greg Davies and Roisin Conaty. The Christmas episode was a beautiful tribute to the late Rik Mayall, who played Dan’s father in the show, and sent both Mayall himself, and the character he played, off in a hilarious but touching fashion. Available on 4OD.
Shooting Stars is without doubt the greatest panel show ever made, with it lasting for a healthy six series and spanning from 1993 to 2011. It remains a source of frustration for me that the programme was cancelled in 2011 as it definitely hadn’t exhausted itself in anyway. The best justification for this may very well be that the comedic style of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer was a tad too strange for a new and evolving audience, though there is still a gap in my life ever since its cancellation. I have very fond memories of being only nine or ten years old and absolutely crying with laughter at the madness that is Shooting Stars, from its Dove From Above round to Vic’s pub singing.
5) Jack Dee Finally Laughs
Every single week, Jack Dee was forced to listen to Vic talk disparagingly of his miserable face. Every single week, Jack Dee remained calm, if a little irritable throughout, until, finally on one fateful episode towards the end of the reign of Vic and Bob’s Shooting Stars, he snapped. The man with “a face like a neglected radish” actually cracked a smile.
4) The Arrival of Angelos Epithemiou
We were all pretty gutted to hear that Matt Lucas would not be returning as Man With The Scores: George Dawes in series 7, but the pain was dulled by the news that he was to be replaced by regular panellist and burger van owner Angelos Epithemiou (played by Dan Skinner). Angelos is a very complex character; an easily aggravated, no-nonsense loner, if you will, with his infamous carrier bag that contains a wild array of goods…
3) Larry Hagman
Poor Dallas star Larry Hagman was in for a big shock when he was booked to appear on the show when he clearly didn’t really understand what it was all about. In fairness, he was a good sport throughout the episode but it was an effort to hide the confusion he inevitably would feel when in the presence of the two madmen. A slightly bewildered Hagman responded to a question from Bob towards the end of the episode, “Are you beginning to think you may sack your agent?” with, “I’ve done some loony shows in my time but this is certainly the one”.
2) Baked Potato
Out of George Dawes’ wonderful back catalogue of ingenious songs, Baked Potato is the one that made me laugh the most. All of the giant baby’s tunes have proved to be very catchy and, of course, hysterically funny over the years but something about the addition of a talking potato really made this song special. This particular number taught its audience many moral lessons such as “do be happy, don’t be sad” and “do be early, don’t be late”. Once you’ve heard it a few times you will find yourself singing it all day everyday so “Thank you Baked Potato!”
1) Tiny Eyes
Not only is the song in this clip absolutely absurd, the visuals also aim to shock: with the eyes of all involved literally being of minute proportions. It is honestly quite difficult to find Tiny Eyes unfunny, especially for a person who ‘understands’ the comedy of Reeves and Mortimer, which appeals to both old and young. The sequel to Tiny Eyes is another must watch due to the faultless insanity and that is entitled Tiny Hands, I’ll leave you to guess the rest.
It is important that we celebrate Shooting Stars for the treasure that it was and appreciate the sheer amount of comedic skill hidden beneath the surface, underneath the apparent madness. What is your favourite Shooting Stars moment of all time? Let me know in the comments, or by tweeting me at @moodycomedy.
January marked a much awaited time for Vic and Bob fans: the arrival of the brand new surreal sitcom, House Of Fools. The programme follows the troubles faced by Bob [Mortimer] and his group of unreliable and slightly insane ‘friends’ (plus his Norwegian son, Erik) who all insist on lodging in his house whilst continually mocking poor Bob as he manages to fail in all aspects of his life.
The casting of the programme is near on perfection, featuring Matt Berry as Beef, Dan Skinner as Bosh, Morgana Robinson as Julie and of course Vic and Bob themselves. I was pleased to see a new face on the programme: stand up comedian Daniel Simonsen as Erik, whose role in the show is refreshing, maybe because the exaggerated Norwegian accent is hilarious in itself.
Reeves and Mortimer have said in interviews that the aim of the show was to take the conventional idea of what should be in a sitcom and completely turn it on its head by recreating typical situations but in a new way. For example, when a neighbour tells the protagonist that they need them to look after something very important, the audience are immediately aware of the inevitability that something will soon go drastically wrong. The double act recognised this and made it the plot line of episode two, The Pork Pie Affair, in which Julie asks the group to look after an oversized pork pie that is to be given to Bruce Willis that evening.
The programme is broken up with songs of nonsense, that Bob describes as a “shortcut to telling a plot, so we set everything up via the gift of song.” The words are constantly going round my head on a daily basis and I can’t seem to get them out so beware!