There are not many comedians around who can lay claim to having being influenced by German playwright/poet Hugo Ball, who co-founded the Cabaret Voltaire in opposition to society, ultimately denounced as making ‘Degenerate Art’ by the Nazis with his bizarre Dada performance art, Cubist suits and sound poems. But then, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer aren’t just your average comedians.
Launching themselves onto an unsuspecting public in 1990 on Channel 4, just around teatime, Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out was like nothing else around. As inspired by Dadaism and Surrealism as end-of-the-pier humour and variety acts (Reeves was an ex-art student) Reeves and Mortimer’s unique blend of banal British observational humour was contorted through the medium of performance art (who can forget student troupe Action!Image!Exchange! who parodied performance art’s uber-earnest manifestos) and their various absurdist non-sequiturs. The Man With the Stick was very Hugo Ball, a man parading around with… erm… a stick, wearing a paper hat which covered his entire face, covered in odd slogans and Reeves’ drawings.It was hard to digest food for laughing at this deranged duo and their cohorts, and there was a very real sense of anarchy and chaos, of things falling apart.
But if the likes of Novelty Island,Uncle Peter, Les and Morrissey the Consumer Monkey were too much for some people, The Stotts (Donald and Davey) ramped it up to extremes: they were next level odd. Clad in rolled-up blouson leather jackets, naff trousers, kilts, suit jackets and spiky toed boots and off-set by headpieces akin to bouffon clowns with masking tape Hitler moustaches. They were as childlike as they were unsettling. ‘Howay,man’, the brothers shrieked in shrill Geordie accents. ‘You stop startin’ on me’.Reeves was aggressive; Mortimer cuddly but erratic, banging on a tiny xylophone to emphasise points.
As they lumbered towards the hapless famous faces who had nervously agreed to take part in the show (guests as diverse as Sting, Sinead O’Connor and Damon Hill) in a distinctly amateurish take on enduring tribute show This Is Your Life, the deadpan duo asked questions ranging from the grindingly obvious to the puerile, bickering throughout about who was getting to ask more, or revealing too much about Marzipan. Dadaists would surely have approved- there was nothing cosy or reassuring in their in-your-face interrogations, usually culminating in hissy fits and bitter recrimination.They were idiot-savant types, child-men of the first order. I’d never seen anything like them on mainstream television, and it felt strangely revolutionary.
Of course, 25 years later, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are elder statesmen and part of the classic comedy old guard, which is I am sure a constant source of irritation to them. Their Poignant Moments tour continues across Britain, bringing lunacy to old fans and a whole new generation alike. They may have been a widely acknowledged influence on all that came after them, from Spaced to Black Books and of course The Mighty Boosh but The Stotts were among my all-time favourite characters ever.
Happy 25 years together,Reeves and Mortimer. Always remember that ‘marzipan is between a man and his conscience.’ Long may you tickle, and confound.
Vic and Bob are currently on tour. For more information, go to