n the topsy-turvy world we call showbiz, Top Entertainer Vic Reeves is, as they say, ‘happening’. After one series of his Channel 4 hit, Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, and a sellout tour of the nation’s student unions, Vic has become a household name, being regularly compared to such renowned British comics as Eric Morecambe, Will Hay and Arthur Askey. Actually none of these really bear much resemblance to the definitely unique Reeves, a man who regularly delights in pulling a giant salami from behind his desk, and saying ‘Will you look at the quality of that sausage.’
Sausages, and other assorted meat products are a vital part of the Reeves recipe; a surreal mixture of shabby Northern working-men’s-club comic razzmattazz and inspired nonsense. Reeves isn’t sexist, racist or any other ist under the sun, simply because he doesn’t operate in the real world. Vic lives in a land of his own creation along with other third-rate cabaret acts such as the Singing Mound or Nibbles the Comedy Duck, who regurgitates shrimps every time her master recites one of the Ten,Commandments. His companions include bald assistant Les, dressed in a lab coat and a martyr to his chive phobia, and the wonderfully sinister Man with the Stick, who stomps around the stage to a martial beat wearing a white paper bag on his head, and rarely condescends to reveal what he has on the end of his stick.
Vic Reeves is the alter ego of Jim Moir, a quietly-spoken, smartly-dressed 31-year-old from Darlington, who bears a distinct likeness to one of those grim-up-north heroes Albert Finney used to play in early 60s kitchen-sink dramas. The white-suited anti-comic Reeves first saw the light of day in a South London comedy venue, and soon attracted a cult following, before taking the world of TV light entertainment by storm.
‘When I started off I was running a comedy club,’ he says, ‘well, I was running a club which I wanted to be a comedy club. I couldn’t find anyone I wanted to put on sol did it all myself. Vic was just what I felt like doing really. It wasn’t contrived or even thought about. Vic just fell into place.’
The Vic he created has a polished cabaret star sheen, constantly undermined by absurdity. Each show starts with the star bursting on stage (occasionally accompanied by Isambard Kingdom Brunel clutching a stuffed Alsatian) and singing a classic song like Daydream Believer or Sheila Take A Bow with studied lack of talent. It gets the message across: Vic is tacky, Vic is showbiz, Vic is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It also makes you wonder whether you ever want to see him again.
‘I don’t know where the idea came from,’ he says. ‘He just seemed to be there from the beginning. He’s only developed a little over the years, got a lot crueller, but he’s still basically the same character.’ Vic’s cruelty is mostly aimed at sidekick and writing partner Bob Mortimer, who was a regular member of the audience at Reeves’ early shows, and gradually became part of the act. Mortimer specialises in nasty,
mean-spirited characters; adversaries and foils for the aggressively genial Reeves. His masterpiece is Graham Lister, the failed contestant on the Novelty Island Talent show, whose pathetic ‘turns’ offer him the excuse to insult the hated Reeves on a regular basis.
It is these strands of the show, the surreal subversions of variety tradition that are the foundations of the Big Night Out. For Novelty Island, competitors are corralled into a small enclosure to perform their bizarre turns. ‘One bloke came on Novelty Island during the live show once,’ says
‘Vic is tacky, Vic is showbiz, Vic is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It also makes yOu wonder whetheryou ever want to see him again.’
Reeves, ‘and he put a coffee jar on his head and hit it with a hammer. Blood all over the place. Didn’t win either.’ Winners are invariably inanimate objects like the very appealing Musical Doughnuts. Other members of the audience are set tasks along the lines of ‘Read an Anthony Trollope novel’, but the real highlight comes when Judge Nutmeg (Mortimer) is wheeled on to dispense justice. ‘Spin, spin, spin the wheel of justice’ chant the frenzied audience, proving their susceptibility to yet another of the Reeves’ catchphrases. They’ve already sighed ‘very pooer’ at a weak joke, and joined in the ‘You just wouldn’t let it lie’ refrains.
‘You can’t contrive a catchphrase ,’ says Reeves. You have to say something people enjoy listening to in the first instance, and then you can tell whether that should be repeated. The audience picked up on ‘very pooer’. I was saying it without realising that it was a catchphrase for a while. But I like the idea of people saying inane things to one another. It brightens up their otherwise meaningless lives.’
The new series will feature the same
format, but will be much more tightly written. ‘There are a few new characters,’ says Reeves, ‘but basically it’s more of a double-act between me and Bob. We’ve written four so far, and I think they’re all much funnier than the whole of the last series.’ Some of the jokes may have been developed, but fans can, however, rest assured that the Reeves meat fixation is still intact.
‘We thought it was funny to mention meat products in that general way, without referring to a specific type of meat,’ he explains. ‘There’s something funny about that phrase ‘meat products’. I’ll tell you where the idea came from. I was in Leeds and I saw this sign outside a butcher’s saying ‘Summer clearance of meat’, and I thought that was great, this idea of getting rid ofold meat. I thought that was very funny.’
In the new series the meat products references are opened out to include a wider spectrum of consumer products, all tested and reported on by Morrissey the Consumer Monkey, another of the shabby puppets that regularly appear, alongside such luminaries as Alan Davidson, the Foul-Mouthed Fox.
With Big Night Out’s fanatical following (‘We get young girls between thirteen and sixteen, boys aged 24—32, and then a smattering of old people,’ he says confidently, giving the impression he could probably give you a full demographic breakdown ofthe audience ifyou required it), Vic might appear to have his hands full, but in true superstar fashion he has plenty of future plans. He is already in the process of making a single for Island Records. Rumour told ofa collaboration with the Fall’s Mark E. Smith on a cover version of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s Don’t Give Up, but that seems unlikely to happen. ‘I asked Mark if he’d do a record with me, he said yeah, but his manager’s being a bit iffy about it,’ says Reeves, although he does confirm that he will be working with Human Leaguer Phil Oakey. ‘Phil’s doing the music for a new filmed series we‘re doing in April called the Weekenders. He‘s also going to appear in one of the films. It’s set at a meat festival and there‘s this old lady selling liver and kidneys and stuff, but Phil plays the man with the quality meat stall.’ Poor old Phil, typecast again.
Reeves actually seems blissfully unaware that people could find his brand ofcomedy in any way strange. He strongly denies many people’s suspicions that he and Mortimer write their scripts under any alcoholic or narcotic influence. ‘If we did do drugs or drink, it wouldn't be at all funny,’ he says. ‘I think you have to have a very clear head to write it, and I don’t think it’s that strange. It’s not warped at all. If people wanted to think in the way we do. they could. They just don‘t let themselves.’
Ifyou’re prepared to let yourselves in for Vic’s worldview, huge sausages, whistling fruit and all, he is planning a tour in November. This time he’s playing the bigger theatres by public demand. They
just won’t let him lie.
Vic Reeves Big Night Out. Ne w series starts 2 7 February, 10.30pm Channel 4.
The List 22 February — 7 March l99l 11