I am in a sentimental mood.
I shouldn’t be, Jeanette Winterson warns us that sentimentality is a cheap and shallow recourse for those who may be incapable of true emotion. This may be why mafia films are always so keen on that scene where the mafia boss weeps while listening to La Traviata before having three innocent family men into a big steel beef mincing machine.
I am on the way to the Slapstick Festival in Bristol. My carrier bag is stretched by books on Samuel Beckett and books by The Goodies. It was The Goodies that let to this drift into sentimental nostalgia. I remembered sitting in front of the television, right in front of the television, retina damaging proximity to the cathode rays, and taping an episode of The Goodies with a cassette player my dad had brought back from his office. It was a recording of the episode in which Tim plays a Thatcherish politician in the run up to an election, but it was mainly a recording of my giggling and bursts of high pitched laughter.
Comedy can save the laugh of the lonely child, the odd boy or the odd girl.
My Uncle Bob had The Goodies Book of Criminal Records. It was the greatest book ever written, well, that and The Making of Doctor Who.
Tonight, I am presenting a celebration of Rik Mayall with Michael Legge. Amongst the clips will be a short excerpt from More Bad News where Colin Grigson slips in dog excrement. I first saw More Bad News supporting Trick or Treat, an underwhelming horror flick with a cameo from Ozzy Osbourne. I think he was a TV evangelist. I slid off my chair. It was one of those moments where comedy nearly killed me.
The good thing about being one of the less popular children is that it gives you more time to use your imagination and immerse yourself in other people’s. Not having too many invitations to drink cider below the war memorial, you can read the Bachelor Boys Young Ones book over and over again in as many different voices as you want.
Spluttering in the current fog of intolerance, the Slapstick Festival has offered succour to the disenchanted. Watching artists talking excitedly about their own work and their inspirations is an inspiration in itself.
There is something both comforting and invigorating about seeing a false leg being played by a dadaist inspired band of jazz miscreants. Neil Innes was watching recently found footage of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band with Dick Fiddy acting as his interrogator. The free rein to experiment on display still seemed fresh and daring and preposterous. Nothing was made to fit in with the tastes of a presumed audience tortured for their opinion by market research. Before he went on, I spoke with Neil about Robert Rauschenberg and the joy that is projected from his art, these found excerpts of the Bonzos exuded similar delight.
Earlier, Roy Hudd captivated an audience with his memories of visits to the Croydon Music Hall and how Max Miller drank for free. Boyish enthusiasm can still bubble and burst in the over 80s.
I was meant to be interviewing The Goodies about their books, but due to illness and Clueness, the one Goody standing was Graeme Garden. We talked of Eric Von Daniken, the transvestism of William Gladstone and the mystery of Arthur C Clarke. Though Graeme has not been able to be heard on as many I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clues lately, he still writes jokes for it every week. Like most of those being celebrated here, comedy is not a job despite being his lifelong career, it is a necessity.
On Thursday, Michael Legge and I overran with our selection of clips celebrating Rik Mayall. We promised to make it like a telly celebration of Rik Mayall by showing clips and then, just before the punchline, we’d stop them and we’d say, “Hahaha, that was funny. I remember it”, before moving to the next clip that we’d garrot on the cusp of a punchline. Instead, we showed early appearances of Rik and Ade, our favourite moments of The Young Ones, “swotting away for teacher, like a total spasmo”, and Rik’s finest walking in dog excrement moment. Trust alternative comedy to replace banana skins with a big poo. We ended on his Exeter University speech – “love is the answer”.
I bloody love Rik Mayall, it’s all his fault I have spoilt some of your nights out by being on stage as a some kind of comedian.
Tonight, it is The Great Dictator, tomorrow I will be quizzing Alexei Sayle about his favourite comedy clips. A few performers have commented on comedy’s failure to prevent the rise of despots. Maybe comedy cannot destroy the worst in humanity, but perhaps during the struggles with the vain and the greedy and intolerant, it can help maintain the humanity of those who don’t want to lose all hope quite yet.
Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles continues – this week it’s James Acaster. You can also hear Eddie Izzard, Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Isy Suttie and loads more. they are all here