Saturday, January 30, 2016

Big Night Out

In the 1980s, I used to watch a lot of stand-up comedy at venues around south-east London, such as the Tunnel Club in Greenwich, Woolwich Tramshed and Deptford Albany. One night at the Goldsmiths Tavern in New Cross, I saw an act I had never heard of before who was billed as Vic Reeves: Britain’s foremost light entertainer. I would like to say that I was ahead of the game in spotting a nascent comedy genius but, in the interests of truth rather than myth, I have to confess I was completely unmoved. In an age of hard-edged political stand-up, I found a man in a suit with a toy monkey unfunny, childish and silly. Hey, ho: we cannot always be right.

When Vic Reeves reappeared a few years later on Channel 4 – now with Bob Mortimer - in Big Night Out, the surrealism, the repetition, the ridiculous characters and, above all, the playfulness with language, were a different proposition entirely. And then, with The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and Shooting Stars, the duo became part of the British comedy pantheon. They then branched out into television drama and sitcom with Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Catterick and, most recently, House of Fools.

Last autumn, the pair were set to celebrate 25 years of their partnership with a large venue tour of Britain when the trials of middle-age intervened. Bob Mortimer, complaining of chest pains, was admitted to hospital and underwent triple bypass heart surgery. Having made a swift recovery, the tour has been re-scheduled to start tonight in Leeds. Last night, they played a low-key warm-up show at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre and, as they took the stage, Mortimer checked his heart rate. Reeves assured him, however, that he would be fine as long as it did not exceed 1,000 bpm.

In a two hour performance, with interval, many of the favourites from across their shows appeared: The Man with the Stick, Graham Lister and Novelty Island, Mulligan and O’Hare, Dr Shakamoto, The Dove from Above and – my personal favourite - frying pans. There is something about seeing Tom and Jerry cartoon violence made flesh and I thought I was going to be sick with laughter as they repeatedly smashed each other in the face with (almost) impeccable timing until Vic pummelled Bob to the ground with a fire extinguisher. Bob, of course, emerged from behind the desk with a massive and distorted head.

It was not all nostalgia for the largely forty-something audience, though: new sketches were projected on to the back screen during costume changes. One, sending up urban free running, was hilarious: “Banksy! Bollards! Graffiti! Stairwells!” With physical comedy that is almost as energetic as it was 25 years ago, I do hope Bob will be okay on their hectic 15-date tour that finishes in London the day after their St. Valentine’s gig in Brighton. As long as he follows Vic’s sound medical advice, he should be alright.

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