If you were an annoying drama student in the Nineties – or even a less-annoying one – there’s a chance you may have affected a northern accent and found non-sequiturs and silly voices very funny. Of course, it was Reeves and Mortimer’s fault; bursting onto Channel 4 in 1990, Vic and Bob changed the face of popular comedy. Vic Reeves Big Night Out – a bizarre parody of variety shows, hosted by Britain’s “top light entertainer and singer” Vic Reeves – was like nothing else.
Those who claimed Vic and Bob simply ripped off Spike Milligan and Morecambe and Wise were simply looking at the surface detail: disguised under the pretence of a wacky show, Big Night Out had lots of great character humour and was a savage satire of the contemporary comedy scene, not unlike Monty Python before them. Their reign continued over on the BBC, with The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and panel show parody Shooting Stars, going on to inspire the surreal Mighty Boosh, Bo Selecta‘s hand-made parodies … and Celebrity Juice, which I will never forgive them for.
However, after going prime time – presenting game show Families At War in their own manic fashion – it was clear that the boys found it difficult to remain on the forefront as pioneers in comedy; their attempt at dark narrative humour Catterick was judged not as good as the almighty League of Gentlemen, and once-popular Shooting Stars faded after essentially running too long. However, their comeback show House of Fools proved successful; maybe not as ‘out there’ as their origins but at least they were back in the spotlight. So a return to their hit Big Night Out format was not unexpected (although, surprisingly, unpredictably predictable). And I for one was excited about the prospect of the pair returning to their early days; their more recent output had lacked heart and surreal horror, such as the moment when the Man With The Stick lost his child to Wavey Davey… who turned out to be the Devil.
Unfortunately, for fans of the original 90s series, the “Christmas Special” episode of Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out was a disappointment. In places it was funny: the reappearance of Graham Lister, Vic Reeves’ egotistical, nerdy and pervy antagonist was an absolute joy, as were the more sinister jokes, such as Bob thinking he is trying on new wigs when they are in fact bloody body parts from a bag that contained the body of recently murdered Olly Murs that Vic suspiciously has hold of.
Instead – with the occasional exception of a surreal phrase or childish nonsense – the majority of the jokes were simple innuendo, which I have never felt is Vic and Bob’s style. After years away from the Big Night Out format, rather than going back to their roots, the pair resorted to the more populist material of their more recent work, with only little moments of their original genius shining through.
The show was book-ended by a couple of self-penned nonsense songs more in-keeping with Smell rather than Big Night Out, as was the recurring overweight slob claiming to be Rod Stewart, who was reminiscent of that show’s Uncle Peter. “Sponsors” Geordie Jeans – perfumed trousers with working class odours – also felt out of place, being a one-off gag from Shooting Stars. Although not totally pants, the gag did stink a little.
In addition to an absence of essential favourites like Les, the Man With The Stick, Judge Nutmeg et al – and even perennial catchphrase “you wouldn’t let it lie” – what was truly missing were the original characters of “Vic Reeves” and “Bob”. Essentially, it was “the real them” having fun and being silly and putting on voices, like some annoying drama students.
In the 1990s, Reeves and Mortimer were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time; although not every joke worked back in the day, it was at least different. My Inner drama student from more than twenty years ago hopes that the tiny glimpses of genius in this stand-alone episode will be more dominant in the full series to be broadcast next year, but as Vic Reeves once said, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t climb a ladder with a bell in both hands”.