ere’s the deal. A young mother walks into MacDonald’s with some friends. Breaking from the domesticity of her conversation, she addresses the bemused boy behind the counter thus, in a sing-song Grampian twang: ‘Do you sell Big Macs? And do you sell Chicken McNuggets? And would it be possible to purchase at this establishment a regular Diet Coke with an extra portion of fries? Then you must be a MacDonald’s!’ Admittedly this loses something in the transcription but the moment was not without mirth.
And here’s Another True Story. A BR conductor wanders through a deserted late night train checking for any sign of passenger life. As he goes he mutters the high-pitched rallying cry of ‘Stoneybridge !’ Still espying no one his muttering gets louder, until he reaches the final carriage where unfettered by an audience of commuters he bellows the catchword with conviction. Then he hears an irrepressible trill of laughter from a concealed fare-dodger.
These two events really did happen, right hand up to God, and both were not unconnected to a certain popular televisual comedic feast poised to return to Channel 4 forthwith. The Camomile Lawn. Hyuk, hyuk. No, I jest. It’s really Absolutely. Absolutely. The absolutely fabulous Absolutely. An insanely addictive pot-pourri of sketch-based surrealism so side-achingly preposterous that were I to be momentarily reminded of its high Chortle-factor I would know to leave all the jokes in this article to them. (Plus Morwenna Banks said only to say nice things about them and not to take drugs either.) So . . .
‘Why is Lieutenant Uhura brown?’
Duh . . . dunno.
‘Because William Shatner!’
‘And why is William Shatner?’
I can’t begin to imagine.
‘Because DeForest Kelly! That’s the surreal Absolutely version of that joke.’
No, but seriously. ‘Stoneybridge’ as mentioned above, for those not aufait with this most ridiculous of sketches, consists of a roomful of councillors attempting to dream up new and interesting ways of promoting their beleaguered backwater to consumers in the civilised world. It has reached the threshold where ‘semi-mythic’ becomes ‘part of the furniture’. By now it must surely
be an albatross.
‘What do you mean, does it ﬂy through the air?’ inquires Pete Baikei gleefully. ‘In Edinburgh it’s great because in urinals people come up to you as you’re urinating and punch you in the back and go “Stoneybridge!” So it’s an albatross in that sense . . .’
‘. . . in the urinal sense,’ clarifies Morwenna.
‘ . . . but basically the Stoneybridgers have become more surreal this series, haven’t they? They do their own charity single and dress up as Tom Jones and Elvis Presley. Taking them away from the committee-room table.’
This is one of the more coherent exchanges in a half-hour encounter. Trying to arbitrate at an Absolutely interview session is like being party to a three-way, fast-forward Whose Line Is It Any way? as Pete , Morwenna and Jack Docherty compete boisterously for a monopoly on the conversation. Here is a sample response to a simple question, viz ‘What will the new series be like?’
‘It’s going to be reallyfunny . . .’
‘. . . comedy genius. . .’
‘. . . comedy is reborn . . .’
‘. . . there’s never been anything like it . . .’
‘It’s the same stuff, basically.’
None of the team knows if they have come up with anything to capture the imagination to Stoneybridge extents, but they have high hopes for Pete’s Laughing Man. ‘Quite seriously, comedy is reborn,’ enthuses Jack. ‘He’s a big fat man on a tractor with a big beard, looks a bit like Pavarotti, and he laughs at car stickers, like “My other car’s a Porsche”. He finds that hilarious. But he sings and then laughs.’ Pete gives a verbal demonstration and, I tell you, comedy is indeed reborn.
If there lingers in your mind the tiniest trace of doubt that this new series may not possibly be as drop-dead hilarious as the last one, owing to contempt-breeding familiarity, then consider this as one of the ideas that was rejected.
‘We wrote this sketch called “MacDalek” ,’ says Jack. ‘It was the story of a dalek who was separated from his platoon in one of the early attempts to take over the world, and it was brought up by Mr and Mrs McShuggie in Galashiels as one of their own. He supported Celtic and it was all just this dalek with a really strong Scottish accent — [by this point Morwenna is asphyxiating with laughter in the background] — who wore
a kilt - he was called Wee Man — and he got carried down the steps at Parkhead saying things like “dinnae shoogle me, my bunnet’s falling aff!” and “get us a wee pie”.’ Abiding by the comedy tenet that if it makes the six of them laugh it’s worth doing, Absolutely has gone forth and multiplied at a time when improvisational comedy has outstripped traditional sketch-based shows in popularity and economy. Their first video release is currently available, along with Absolutely the Words, a collection of the more verbose sketches from the first two series. The team can only conclude that this enduring popularity comes from an audience which shares their daft, even
‘It was the story of a dalek who was separated from his platoon in one of the early attempts to take overthe world, and it
was brought up in Galashiels .’
churlish, playground humour. ‘Apparently schoolchildren really like comedy shows
because it shows them that there are adults who are as childish as them,’ confirms Jack.
‘We don’t much like observational comedy, topical comedy, parodic comedy, et cetera, et cetera. Too much comedy feeds on itself, feeds on television and what is happening today and has a very short shelf-life. We like to create new characters and their own world. We’re all very interested in losers and sadness and smalltownness and rigidity and the comedy of tiny things. We share a world view. That’s why we work together, because we’re friends and we all want to go to the pub together at the end of the day. But not every day I emphasise, kids.’
The appeal of Absolutely’s awry creations comes down to a simple ‘why is this funny? Because it just is’, an appraisal that also applied to another successful team of comic eccentrics, name beginning with Monty and ending with Python. Like those inﬂuential forebears, Absolutely elevates an absurdist vein of comedy, twisting, then magnifying the marginally plausible into a tidal wave of infectious silliness.
And in case any of the cast is reading, here’s an oblique joke they may wish to incorporate into their next series. Q: What’s brown and sticky. A: A stick. Boom, boom.
Thank you. And goodnight.
Absolutely returns to Channel 4, Friday 22 January, 10.30pm.
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