Vic Reeves

They wouldn’t let it lie

Tie it down, in no more than 20 words. And you simply have to use the 25%-adjective, sentence-structure model; otherwise your clipped and top-pocket-friendly definition just won’t hold sway. Ok. Vic Reeves Big Night Out was a zany experiment in surreal humour, mixing vaudevillian, nay, dadaisian characters with a goofball wit. Abject adjectives, they’re bloody everywhere. Try again. Vic Reeves Big Night Out made a lot of people laugh.

And it is set to do so again. The two series of Vic Reeves Big Night Out will be released on DVD in September. Since the show was first aired in May 1990, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have been regularly spotted dangling, dancing, gurning and grinning. On the other side of the screen commentators and critics have spent time sitting, thinking, writing and submitting adjectives; trying to pin down the secret ingredient that makes Vic and Bob’s brand of humour so special.

Will Self has said of Vic Reeves, “He’s what he appears to be, there is no mystery.” But what does Will Self know? Perhaps he has only spoken with Vic Reeves. In search of that unquantifiable something – the holy adjective – I speak with Jim Moir, Vic’s creator. Lugging wood at his home in the Kent countryside, Mr Moir is not expecting my call. Nor has he seen my questions, which he requested in order to prepare. Unprepared and mid-act, James Roderick Moir affably drops his wood to take my questions.

“I guess I’ve never found it to be a particularly humourful county,” chuckles Moir, when asked what passes for laughs in Kent. “I grew up in the North East, where there is a particular type of humour. They were fortunate years, it’s where I honed my skill.” As Moir’s final sentence gets lost in his own giggling, I begin to suspect that he’s not taking this too seriously. Perhaps that is the secret? “My dad and my friends used to make me laugh,” he continues. “We didn’t watch TV really so it wasn’t anyone from there. We made up our own humour.”

It wasn’t until the mid-eighties, whilst living in London, that Moir took to the stage armed only with planks of wood, a Bryan Ferry mask and his North-East-fuelled wit. “It was by mistake really,” says Moir. “My friend had a comedy club and he packed it in. He asked me to take over. And I didn’t know how to get people in or anything so I thought, ‘I’ll do it myself.’ I had a vague idea of what I was doing. I never did the same thing twice. A friend came along one night and brought his friend, Bob. It was the sort of place that you could do anything. I used to put things out for the audience before shows. Anyway, Bob and I got chatting after one night, there was no great plot, we thought it would be more fun that just sitting in a pub.”

No great plot? He’s being coy. We need to dig deeper to unearth the comedy secret. What did Jim and Bob think people would make of Vic Reeves Big Night Out? “We used to play at the Goldsmith’s Tavern,” remembers Moir. “On stage we didn’t really think about it. The pub was part of the alternative thing and people would come knowing what they were going to get. When we got on television we thought, well, we’ll get one series and that will be that.”

What followed has been described as a cult phenomenon. But what caused it? The array of ridiculous characters? Or was it the catch phrases? Cries of, “You wouldn’t let it lie!” and, “what’s at the end of the stick?” certainly helped to spread the Big Night Out word. But the success can’t all be down to a couple of memorable one-liners. What manner of comedy-genius ingredient is strong enough to propel two men, relatively unknown outside of London’s alternative scene, to the top of the pop chart in 18 months?

It’s when Jim Moir talks about his brief pop career that the adjectives begin to clear. “My singing days are over,” he states. “I’ve done my number 1s and number 3s. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my number 1s.” Moir’s u-bended emphasis is barely perceptible. He moves on to talk about other people’s music. “I remember listening to the Annie Nightingale rock show when I was younger and I heard the riff to Voodoo Chile,” Moir continues. And then I heard the same Hendrix riff at Butlins, coming out of the PA and I thought ‘I like that.’ And I liked the music to 2001. But when I went to buy it, the shop assistant thought I said Space Oddity. I got it home and thought this sounds a bit miserable, this isn’t the music I wanted.”

The warmth of Jim Moir’s chuckling, non-plussed manner is contagious. He is a funny man. Vic and Bob are funny men. The shows Vic and Bob have written and appeared in make people laugh. Some people get it, others don’t. If you do, you may get very excited at the prospect of Les, Lister, the Stotts and their erstwhile friends coming back to life very soon. “We did two series (of Vic Reeves Big Night Out) and then ran out of enthusiasm for the characters,” says Moir. “But we’re going to do a show around the release of the DVD. I guess they will all be aired again then. We haven’t got any plans really. We’ve got one show but if that goes well we could do a tour.” And after that? “It depends when the BBC next agree to put something out,” replies Moir. “We really enjoyed doing Catterick, but I think they’re looking for a more Friday Night Live, Big Night Out sort of thing.” Whatever Vic and Bob do next, people will probably laugh. A lot. Perhaps this is the secret behind their brand of humour.

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