Since the return of classic panel show Shooting Stars, host Bob Mortimer has commented that ‘comedy feels serious now.’ I’m inclined to agree with him. Although extremely funny, shows such as Mock The Week do, to quote Bob, have a ’spirit of competition and cynicism’ and a sense of continual one-upmanship among contestants, reminiscent of the sophisticated style of comedy my parents would chortle away the evenings to on Radio 4. I’m not knocking it and don’t for a minute think comedy should be ‘dumbed down’, but one of the many great things about watching Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer in action, is that as well as the sense they’re just enjoying arsing about with each other, they’re also, in the true spirit of improvisation, actually assisting each other in the process.
Neither is itching to be the funnier, they just feed off each other’s desire to continue the cycle of silliness between the two. You never know quite where Vic and Bob are going to end up but you know it’ll be somewhere funny, and this is what stops it from dissolving into watching two schoolboys fart around in a science lab, they are always hilarious and genuinely surreal – they’re not ‘trying’ to be, there’s no agenda of smug, self-congratulatory out-witting, they just give into the moment. They’re not the best example because, as the pair have known and worked with each other for so long, they’ve practically created their own complicit eco-system of daftness, but they’re a most welcome contrast to much of the more ‘controlled’ comedy we witness now. This is perhaps a long-winded way of saying that it’s been incredibly refreshing to have these guys back on our screens.
However, although there may be a severe lack of funny people just genuinely arsing about on telly at the minute, a new night has appeared on the comedy circuit in London, which could well redress the current lack of fun and unpredictable comedy available. Vic and Bob should perhaps pop down to comedian Bob Slayer’s new comedy night at Doggett’s, Southbank, a night which feels a million miles away from ’serious.’ Or a PG certificate for that matter..
Slayer, who has been described as “marching all over the line that should not be crossed like a drunken Henry Rollins with tourettes”, wanted to bring comedy to the Southbank after establishing a regular following at the Dirty Dicks venue in Liverpool St. For the launch night, he put together a sterling line-up of surreality, silliness and alternative comics– co-founder of Viz comic magazine Simon Donald doing his character act Barry Twyford; Dr Brown and Andrew Lawrence, all nicely sandwiched between Slayer’s endearingly provocative style.
Slayer was particularly excited to have his hero, Simon Donald, on stage performing: “I think everyone knows Viz magazine or can tell you about their experience of discovering it as a child. I was a teenager and someone handed me a black and white fanzine type comic with a man with testicles so huge he carried them around in a wheelbarrow. I was hooked immediately.” Slayer praised the ‘pure, unadulterated bollocks’ Viz provided, no doubt influencing his own brand of anarchic silliness. His compere technique does not shy away from the audience. Ok, so bashfulness is not a trait you’re likely to find in many comperes but Slayer is not afraid to slay anyone, and will happily get in many a face– particularly if you happen to be in the front row looking indifferent. He reminded me slightly of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, crossed with Father Christmas (triggered by the red shirt perhaps!) who’s finally cracked under the pressure and boredom of delivering all those toys to children.
Simon Donald has inspired many, including Vic and Bob. As well as creating the legendary comic Viz, which embedded a host of characters such as Sid the Sexist, The Fat Slags and Roger Mellie (“The Man on the Telly”) into the nation’s psyche, Donald has acted in theatre and TV since the ’70s. It’s not until quite recently however, that he’s ventured into performing stand-up as his brilliant character, Barry Twyford, a market researcher from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Dressed in the obligatory, un-stylish luminous jacket and cap, and carrying a clipboard, Donald didn’t produce laughs the second he stepped out, he kept the audience waiting at least ten minutes to drop his first bombshell, and there was slight, awkward tension in the air to begin with. It was worth the wait however, and quite refreshing to see a comedian toying with the audience’s expectations in such a way. He proceeded with his ‘market research’, questioning different members of the audience in a calm and charming Geordie lilt (not that dissimilar to that Cheryl off The X Factor) in a tone that hilariously contradicted a lot of the filth and cheek flowing forth – “are yer for real with them fucking trainers?” and “did you get fingered in the No 64 bus stop?” with answers ranging from one to five – five equal to: “I didn’t even know where the 64 bus stops, I get done at the No 10 stop.”
It’s easy to see why Dr Brown’s become a firm favourite on the ‘alternative’ circuit. Charmingly childlike and silly he manages to dissolve the audience into giggles with his hilarious expressions alone. Without the hint of self-consciousness he announces “ooh, a day at the beach”, then proceeds to undress and declares in a coquettish and rather camp manner “I’d better protect my skin”, cue his mate in the audience to rub suntan lotion all over his back. It has to be seen to be appreciated.
Headline act Andrew Lawrence, who has attracted something of a cult following, slew the room with a tornado-style ream of gags and punchlines that would feel rather rudely incessant if the delivery and content weren’t so funny. One particular diatribe, aimed at a policeman who pulled him over for having a dirty windscreen, had the audience in stitches but the line that’s refused to leave my head takes self-deprecating ginger jokes to the limit – “upon entering a room I hear a loud clap. The sound of 80 vaginas slapping shut.” Hmm, lovely. Funny though.
So, if you do like your comedy unpredictable, unselfconsciously surreal and of the ‘testicles in a wheelbarrow’ variety, then definitely dive into this night’s next offerings, featuring Martin Davis and Paul Foot. Be prepared not to take any of it too seriously though.
Comedy at Doggett’s
1 Blackfriars Bridge, Southbank, London SE1 9UD
£5 advance / Concessions
£7 on the door
Wed 11th Nov
Martin Davis – “a hilarious parrot-faced twat!” Viz
Nik Coppin – “A rapid, non-stop act full of energy”
+ Dr Brown + Bob Slayer (MC)
Tue 15th Dec
Paul Foot – “surreal and flamboyant one-off whose inspired rantings turn the mundane into the magical”
Terry Saunders – “effortlessly funny… a gentle genius” Metro
+ Dr Brown + Bob Slayer (MC)