Where are the heirs to the throne? Paul Dance interviews three of the daftest double acts heading to this year’s Fringe.
The first episode of Vic Reeves Big Night Out was aired on May 25th, 1990 and instantly became a seminal influence in British comedy, an influence that continues to this day. Once described as “the alternatives to alternative comedy” their characters and catchphrases soon found their way into the lexicon of British comedy.
But while one of Britain’s other great duos, Morcambe and Wise, ushered in a new wave of comedy double acts (Little and Large anyone?), sadly the same can’t be said for Vic & Bob’s emergence. It seems that as soon as TV took a chance on something totally different, aside from The Mighty Boosh in 2004, it snuck back to the comfort of sitcoms and ‘observational comedy’.
So where are the heirs to Vic and Bob’s throne? There may not be an overabundance of them but they’re out there, and it seems that they’ve all been inspired by Vic and Bob. One such double act is The Delightful Sausage, a Manchester based double act consisting of Amy Gledhill and Chris Cantrill, that started running an oddball comedy night that went by the same name after becoming friends when both performed in final for the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year.
“Vic and Bob are a huge influence on us, you never doubt they’re having a great time!” says Chris Cantrill. A view echoed by Paul F. Taylor, one half of a double act with Rebecca Shorrocks called Short and Curly,, “I absolutely love The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. I don’t think it gets any better than when Bob had his foot trapped in a bear trap and is shouting for help”. Vic and Bob were and still are a big influence on Ross Brierley and Josh Sadler, a duo from Leeds who met at school and host a monthly night called ‘The Not So Late Show with Ross and Josh, “They informed my entire childhood and adolescence. And Adulthood!” says Ross.
There is a certain joy in watching surreal acts, they do genuinely seem to be having a good time, rather than acting angry, cool or depressed, like many stand-ups. The absurd acts must have a good time or the whole thing fails and seeing an act have a good time is infectious but promotors and bookers, people who know (or should know) their comedy don’t seem to want to take a chance on it more often.
“You tend not to see double acts on traditional comedy nights”, says Amy Gledhill of The Delightful Sausage, “But luckily there are many gigs around the UK that dip their toes into the weirder stuff. That said, we’re also aware that the Sausage is a niche prospect and wouldn’t want to regurgitate our muck down everyone’s throat if they’re not onboard”.
But bookers dipping their toes in occasionally won’t pay the bills, “I don’t think you could survive on the wage of a double act unless you had a TV series”, says Becky Shorrocks (Shorty) “I’m already a professional solo stand-up and I don’t really want to split my fees,” adds Paul F. Taylor (Curly), “I feel Short and Curly are joyously free of the comedy circuit which only seems to want straight stand up anyway.”
“It is harder for us to get gigs at professional nights, but we do better when we’re on them”, says Ross Brierley, “two of our best gigs came at sold out weekend clubs because audiences are absolutely craving something different”.
There is an audience for surreal double acts, the proof is in the success of Vic and Bob and The Mighty Boosh. The acts are out there but without being booked regularly, it’s harder for them to break through than other straight stand-ups. So why aren’t surreal acts getting booked? “I think some people don’t have the patience to understand them”, says Ross Brierley, “anything different needs time to breath, but with such a glut of people performing comedy these days there are significantly more safe options available. Most double acts tend to be Oxbridge-esque sketch acts, there’s not many of us doing nonsense”. Rebecca Shorrocks agrees, “I don’t think silly is cool. Cool and understated seems to be big in the world of sketch at the moment.”
“We were lucky enough to be at one of Vic and Bob’s sold out live shows, so there certainly seems to be an appetite for it. But you don’t see that many of us on the telly these days. In general, it feels like live comedy on TV has settled on showing a particular genre”, says Chris Cantrill.
So, would any of the duo’s ditch any material if they thought it was too surreal or absurd to become more mainstream and accessible?
“No”, says Rebecca Shorrocks, “we’ve always done it and found out the hard way!”
“However,” adds Paul F. Taylor, “we have ditched ideas that we thought were too ‘straight-sketch’.”
A view shared by Ross and Josh, “No such thing as too absurd, generally the best ideas are the most absurd” says Josh. “The mantra is “Never explain”. If it’s stupid just do it. Who cares?”, adds Ross.
All three double acts rightly agree that they wouldn’t ditch something they thought was too silly, “We’ve found it best not to pre-judge what people will find funny as audiences constantly surprise you”, says Chris Cantrill. “We get all the feedback from their cold blank stares”, says Amy Gledhill.
Comedy on TV certainly lacks a variety of styles or commitment to try any new ideas out and while I don’t wish to criticize the straighter stand-ups and panel shows, surely with ever more TV channels we can find room for the next Vic and Bob. Maybe the reason we don’t see them on our screens is since there isn’t as much money being thrown around and an unwillingness to take chances on something that isn’t likely to be a hit. But the world needs silliness! As Vic Reeves himself said, “There aren’t many idiots on the telly anymore.”
Short & Curly: Young at Start – Pleasance Courtyard 16:30
The Not So Late Show with Ross and Josh: Laughing Horse Dropkick Murphys 20:00
The Delightful Sausage: Regeneration Game – Monkey Barrel 12:00