Our favourite Comedian

June 10, 2014

In the early 80’s me and Trev met at Manchester University. We were doing degrees in Drama (one each). I can’t speak for Trev, but I was hardly the most academic of students. Nor was Trev. As our friendship developed, so did our interest in comedy, more commonly known then as mucking around a bit and getting up late.

We were blessed with having tutors who not only indulged our experiments in comedy but also actively encouraged it. (Every Monday night students would perform their latest experimental pieces at the department’s Stephen Joseph Studio, a converted church where we once tried an ‘alternative comedy’ take on Chekhov).

One of our tutors was Dr David Mayer (later to become Professor David Mayer). David’s daughter, Lise, was the girlfriend of a former student, Rik Mayall. The two of them, along with another former Manchester student, Ben Elton, had just written a new sitcom for the BBC called The Young Ones.

We had no TV. We were students; we had no money. Any money we did have had to be spent on beer. And tins of Goblin Dumplings (50p at Oobidoo. Everything at Oobidoo was 50p. That’s why their slogan was –Don’t ask the price. We always did.)

The Drama Department had a TV. And a video player! Every week David Mayer would video The Young Ones for us. And I do mean us, the two of us. Others may have come along too, but David, gently pushing us in all the right directions, knew it was important for us to see this show.

There’d been nothing like it. And it was made by students from Manchester! Not Oxford, not Cambridge. Manchester! It was the most ground-breaking Mancunion contribution to comedy since Frank Randle (and, if you have four minutes to spare to watch this clip from Somewhere On Leave, 1943, you’ll see that Frank would have fitted very nicely into the world of The Young Ones).

Sometime shortly after this, in 1983, David said; “Lise, Rik, and Ben are going to be at my house over the weekend. Would you like to come and meet them on Saturday night.”

Ok… stop. Take a big long break in reading. I’d like to leave a big long gap on the page but that’d be daft. Just imagine the time it’s taking me, even now, for this to sink in. Would we, two stupid students, barely out of our teens, like to meet the creators of The Young Ones? At our tutor’s house?

Let’s deal with David Mayer’s house first.

It was a Mansion of Myths. We’d never been there, but we’d heard the rumours. Apparently he had a shower with three heads! And a Picasso! And we were being invited there! To meet The Young Ones! (I know exclamation marks should be used sparingly, but… come on!!!)

Now, the meeting. Of course we went. We even prepared: We spent Saturday afternoon scooting around Oobidoo, looking for fun items and generally asking the price. We settled on a wind-up spider. 50p.

And so we headed off on Saturday night to our tutor’s home in the posh part of Manchester armed only with a wind-up spider. (I don’t know at what age we learn to take wine, but whatever age, we hadn’t reached it yet).

We arrived at the house. And whatever you read from this point onwards, I assure you, did happen. David greeted us and showed us into a huge half kitchen, half dining room, with a small dividing wall about three feet high in the middle. In the dining room half there was a circular table. And there was Rik, Lise, Ben… and possibly someone else (sorry someone else). David didn’t introduce us… oh, he may have said something like “this is Trev and Simon”… but he didn’t explain who we were or why we were there. The one other thing he did do was to ask us to keep an eye on some steaks he was grilling in the far half of the kitchen.

This of two idiots whose diet consisted of tinned Goblin products.

And David disappeared! Where did he go? To this day no one can answer that. But the best bets are ‘to have a look at his Picasso’ or ‘to have a shower’.

So… we kind of stood around. The others, at the table, carried on talking to each other. At one point we wound up the wind-up spider and let it have a little walk. It didn’t get much of a reaction. But then, why should it? These fellows had demolished a house in their first episode.

We hadn’t been asked to do much by our tutor. Just keep an eye on some steaks. But that wasn’t our forte. We did our best. We wandered over to the cooker. We looked at them. And then they burst into flames.

How can a steak catch fire? I’m sure it’s easy to burn a steak, to ruin it; but for it to catch fire?

Trev struggled to get the grill out. He did, eventually, but not before the fire alarm went off.

The rest is a blur.

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On Monday night we did a daft bit of comedy at The Stephen Joseph Studio. It ended with us dropping some kind of large object off a balcony onto our wind-up walking spider. The spider was smashed to bits. And Rik, and Lise, and Ben were there.

Afterwards we talked about Saturday night. They had no idea why we were there or who we were. They said they hadn’t realised we were ‘comedians’. Which could have been a compliment or not, but either way we had a long chat with our comedy heroes. And for the next few days they were around and about. One night I played cards with Ben and Rik (Ben insisted on giving me money for a taxi home. I insisted on refusing it. I walked the three miles home in the rain. What an idiot student.) Another night we sat chatting with Rik in the bar at The Contact Theatre (the theatre connected to the drama department). He gave us lots of advice and he even gave us his phone number (before mobiles… this was Rik’s home phone number!) and told us to phone him whenever we wanted. He also gave us a quote to use on our publicity for our first Edinburgh show. He told us to use, “My favourite act!”

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Up in Edinburgh, doing our first ever show in 1984, we walked past a poster for a band. I can’t remember the band, but I can remember the quote: “My favourite band”, Rik Mayall.

RIP Rik. Thank you. x

Pardon my Sarong

September 7, 2009

ppardonmysarong

My comedy partner, Trev, very kindly bought me a boxed set of Abbot and Costello movies for my birthday. There’s 24 of them. As it says on the box, “over 32 hours of viewing”. I say kindly…

When we first attempted to be a double-act, back in the early 80’s, we were keen observers, almost students, of other double-acts. And for some reason we were drawn to the nastier ones. There were double-acts out there who seemed to take pleasure in not liking each other, in being downright abusive to each other; modern ones like 20th Century Coyote (Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson), then the more old school acts like Cannon and Ball, and further back, Abbot and Costello.

There were better double-acts; Laurel and Hardy and Morecambe and Wise, where the love for each other conveyed so convincingly through their acts was reciprocated in their real life long-term friendships. But when we were young and angry and foolish we just wanted to see double acts rip each other apart. Or we’d enjoy the dichotomy of an act that seemed to present some sort of a friendship, but when touring chose to stay in separate hotels, or refused to share a 50/50 split of the takings. Double-acts where behind the scenes there was bullying and mutual hatred.

Abbot and Costello were the kings of the dysfunctional double-act. Indeed, when Costello died, Abbot was in the process of suing him for $220,000. To be fair to the two, they’d always had ups and downs with money. In the early years the split was 60/40 in favour of straight-man Bud Abbott; a practice not as outrageous as it might sound. Straight-men were highly regarded and valued within double-acts. And in later years Costello insisted that this split should be reversed; and so it was for their film years. Fair, sort of, but still, the silly old fools.  50/50 is fine. Heck, yes, it’s business, but it’s also comedy; two idiots getting through life, hard enough as it is, should give each other a break. It wasn’t just money they’d argue over. Who’s on first was a big issue, with Costello demanding a name change, Abbot and Costello to Costello and Abbott.

And so, with all that mad aggression seething beneath our sarongs (I wore one for the viewing) I settled down for a good laugh.

The film’s nonsense. As was often the case when double-acts and comedians ventured into movies, someone came up with some daft old story which serves as a way of holding together a number of theatre-tested routines. In this film the boys (trademarked name to be used whenever referring to double-acts) are bus drivers taking a yachtsman to a race in Hawaii. They get chased by the police, end up with the bus floating on a raft, they befriend a seal, they kidnap a woman trying to sabotage the boat race, they end up in a storm, they get washed up on some remote island, the natives mistake Costello for a hero, send him off into a volcano to appease the gods, wearing a sacred special powers jewel, some robbers await to steal the jewel blah blah blah. And everything works out fine. But forget the plot, here’s the best bits, paraphrased and partially remembered (apologies to the screenwriters, True Boardman, Nat Perrin and John Grant):

Costello: Look, a sea-lion.

Abbott: That’s a seal. They use them to make fur coats.

Costello: How do they teach them?

Well, it made me laugh.

My favourite moments, and indeed my favourite aspect of Abbot and Costello’s comedy, comes when the two bicker for what seems like an eternity over some small misunderstanding. The obvious example is their most famous routine, Who’s on First? There are many versions of this, ranging from just a few minutes to almost ten minutes. If you don’t know it, or if you do but would like to see it presented in a new way, have a look at this typographical version.

In Pardon My Sarong they argue over driving the bus, with Abbot constantly saying to Costello “Will ya go ahead and back up.” You can guess how this goes. It’s a funny line, some may say. Once. Well try it again and again with Costello not getting it. And then again. And again. Funny, funny, funny, not so funny, not funny. Then back to funny. I like that.

Another scene sees Costello take on one of the chiefs of the tribe. The film is maybe as dodgy as hell, but I’ll let you decide by seeing a picture of the said chief.

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This may well be racist, but I wouldn’t have a clue who against. Has anyone heard of Claire’s Accessories Island?

So, Costello and this guy get into a bit of an argument and Costello calls him a “stinker”. He, understandably, takes offence, but Abbott steps in to calm things down. He points out that where they are from “stinker” is a form of praise; all the most impressive men are “stinkers”.A set-up for an onslaught of “I’m a bigger stinker than you/ I’m the biggest stinker” etc. Lines that yet again go on and on. A film with a good few minutes of people calling each other “stinker” is ok with me.

As for true nastiness; when Costello has to go through the volcano Abbot doesn’t offer to help. He instead offers Costello a gun. Not to defend himself with, but to kill himself with. Double-act assisted suicide.

It’s possibly wrong to say, knowing that Trev may well read this, but my favourite part of the film didn’t even feature the stars. It’s a musical scene with the Ink Spots and Tip, Tap and Toe. A fantastic routine with moonwalking decades before Wacko Jacko thought of doing it. See it here.

DFHC

February 14, 2009

dfhc-silhouette-2That’s the DevilfishhornClub above. Or DFHC. The DevilfishhornClub was one of the early incarnations of the double act I am in with Trev Neal that eventually became known as Trev and Simon. We didn’t choose that as a name, it’s just that anything that mentioned the devil was unacceptable to the bigwigs behind childrens TV. So, when we started working on BBC1 Saturday morning TV, firstly on Going Live! and then on Live and Kicking, the DFHC had to go and everyone started calling us Trev and Simon. And it stuck.

We called ourselves the DevilfishhornClub because of the props we used. We had a big plastic fish, used for live recreations of Pirahna 2, the Flying Killers, now in 3-D; Some devil horns… we would skip around and sing a song- “666 is the number of the beast, 667 is the number of the beast’s next door neighbour” (I know, technically it’s wrong. It should be 668, or 664, but we were young and 667 is funnier); and some plastic cavemen clubs… I think we did a 2001: a Space Odyssey thing, but my memory has gone due to being whacked on the head repeatedly with the plastic club.

dfhc-programmeThe silhouette comes from the programme for our first Edinburgh show. It was called Funny Comedy and it was a show full of funny comedy, including Honest Jesus’ Car Repair Shop, adverts for Thorley’s Pig Worm Powders, magic with eggs, and the skipping and dancing 666 song mentioned above.

Trev may remember more, but this was the 80’s, before we had a computer, or pens, and so all of our scripts existed mainly in our heads and no one had a video recorder of any sort… it’s a show lost to history. All I can tell you is that it was great and funny and nothing exists to prove me wrong; other than the memories of fools.

The programme still exists. I’ll maybe reveal bits of it post by post, if I have the nerve and Trev’s approval. If so, you can learn all about the birth of a snake and also find out about some of our lesser known film appearances; Me as an alcoholic professor in Educating Retards and Trev as a sex god in Emmanuelle 4 in V.D. Yes, they’re the kinds of things that used to make us laugh when we were young.

I used the silhouette (Trev on the left, me on the right) for our new blog; a Trev and Simon blog that can be found here. You’ll also find our first podcast there. Maybe for our next podcast we can try and trawl our memories for more of our “classic” pre-childrens TV routines.

And below is a bookmark from the show. We had these made instead of leaflets. We handed them out on the streets of Edinburgh and if you brought them along you got in for £1.50. We even had a quote from Rik Mayall on it. We’d met him when we were students at Manchester University and he was an ex-student and now a famous Young One. He said we could quote him as saying we were his “favourite act”. He did this for lots of acts and all he asked for in return was a pint of beer.

dfhc-bookmark