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Having already spotlighted what I consider to be their American counterparts in Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, I thought it necessary that I give Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer the fore this week. Vic and Bob, to be blunt about my bias, are my absolute favourite comedians of all time; making it tough to employ brevity when discussing their innovations, chemistry and pure ability to cause laughter. Most will remember the duo for their madcap and subtly satirical Shooting Stars – the first and best of a string of inspired game shows. Yet, as utterly new and genius as Shooting Stars, at least initially, was, it remains probably the least potent and confrontational of their amazingly obscure body of work.
It amazes me that two of Britain’s most popular and beloved comedians are forced to have their truest material hidden in the shadows, where only hyperfans and the obsessive compulsive may stumble upon it. Of their six main shows (Big Night Out, The Smell Of…, Shooting Stars, Bang Bang It’s…, Catterick and House of Fools), The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer is easily the most disregarded and forgotten despite it being their most tightly woven tapestry to date.
What sticks with me about these six hours, across two series, is how something so staggeringly funny can also be deeply disturbing and, at times, even frightening. It’s something extremely common in comedy now – skirting that uncanny valley that could really go either way in making us laugh or cower. The aforementioned Tim and Eric use it liberally, while the art had already been truly mastered by The League of Gentlemen and their wonderful output. On The Smell Of… however, the technique is used absolutely naturally and without a moment’s force – a decade before their contemporaries would catch up while simultaneously missing the point (i’m looking at you, Noel Fielding). A man trapped under ice is treated as a casual occurrence, cookery show hosts willingly mutilate themselves in the name of trailblazing recipes and nightmarish vignettes with human-vegetable hybrids are an acceptable form of greengrocer advertising. Vic and Bob manage to raise themselves above any accusation of “randomness” in these acts by imbuing each of their odd perspectives and ideas with an inherent sense and often quite profound links to the surrealism of reality itself. I’m not even accusing any of this as being deliberate, as then it would become (as Vic himself says) pretentious prittle-prattle worthy only of a firm poo-pah for its lack of oomph and snazz. Instead, I believe the duo are just that in tune with the odd British island we share, the use of its language and the lives of the people who call it home.
Don’t get too caught up in the meaning behind it all though, or what it might say about the world when seen through this remarkably warped lens. The most important thing about The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer is how enduring the hilarity of their sketches and conversations are. Be it the comic-timing mastery of the interview with Ian Crust, the inventor of the bag, or songs about “les grands garçons sont dans les bouchers” (translate it), Vic and Bob never fail to hit comedy on both a schoolboy level and a more contemplative dadaist approach. I don’t know how they’ll be remembered as time rolls on, and I worry that their later lacking projects like House of Fools will steamroll over the magical myriad of madcap releases they have under their belt. I often fear that Shooting Stars will be the only thing of their’s to survive the ever rolling decades, so do me a favour and at least watch this clip: