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Radio Ga Ga

The concept of being flogged something, either through a visual or aural medium, is not a modern invention, with both the Roman Empire and Egyptian Civilisation making crude wall doodles and papyrus scrawls to promote their wants of the day. Whether they knew that their early trailblazing would pave the way for advertising behemoths such as Pharrell and McDonalds, Beyonce and Armani, and Shane Richie and Daz, is debatable.

As a kid, I was indifferent to the ad-break, with most features being laughably ill-thought out or playfully amusing. However today’s adverts frequently border on the pathological, the product of scientific calculations designed to establish how best to wedge their product into the viewer’s cognitive chamber. Think about the cheery whistle signalling the end of the McDonalds advert – a breezy, catchy and childlike number designed to promote feelings of innocence that will override the adult viewer’s natural fear of chronic obesity. Staying on McDonalds, the brand of childlike happiness is a constant: the Happy Meal, for goodness sake; the logo – an upside down smile; the bright and playful red-yellow colour scheme, now cynically supported by a blatant green ‘eco’ branding.

Do you need a bag today?

Serial offenders of appalling adverts include supermarket chains at both ends of the spectrum. With its upmarket packaging, M&S wants you to believe you are solid middle-class stock by buying so much as a bag of waxy pig sweets from its store. This image was elaborated on in the continued ‘not just any…’ campaign, where the camera slowly moved across zoomed images of bits of food tumbling about the screen, while a woman crooned about the produce, as if auditioning for a sex line. While M&S panders to foodie broadsheet readers, Tesco reaches out to the lower classes, its strapline ‘every little helps’ a barely-disguised pitch for those of breadline existence. The theme is reinforced by the plodding music and northern tones of Jane Horrocks, who many will remember as the equally annoying Bubble from the otherwise excellent Absolutely Fabulous.

I am often amused by the discussions that supermarket status promotes, with many friends openly fawning at the imminent opening of Waitrose in my hometown and extolling the virtues of Sainsburys, while thoughtlessly denouncing Tesco. Such views are testament to the power of advertisement, with the Observer Food Monthly taster pages sometimes giving M&S produce 1 star with the Tesco/Asda alternative receiving excellent reviews. The idea that Tesco is some kind of corporate Yorkshire Ripper is also far from the mark: if you think Tesco is a rampant pillager of all things local, then what tag should one affix to Sainsburys, M&S, Waitrose et al. Are they thinking of the community when they snatch local land and construct their monstrous complexes? Of course, such a simple accusation has missed the point: companies exist to make money for shareholders, if they are permitted by law to do this to the apparent detriment of local communities and businesses, then that is the responsibility of the lawmakers. The end.

Anyway, I digress. This blog post was never meant to occur. The offending adverts to which we shall soon consider came, lingered like an undetected puddle of cat wee beneath the family sofa, before evaporating into the recesses of the memory bank, never to be seen again. I could turn on the TV, safe in the knowledge that my general equilibrium would no longer be tested by those 30 seconds of unmitigated horror. Or so I thought. Last week, I was innocently minded my own business behind the ironing board, when I heard the sinister rallying cry – “Haaalifaaaax”.

ONE AH-AH…TWO AH-AH…THREE AH-AH

The Halifax advertisement campaign of 2010 and 2011 will be familiar to many: a bunch of jokers dressed in Halifax uniform pretend to host a radio show with ‘hilarious’ consequences. The charge sheet against those involved in these nuggets of televisual leprosy are numerous and may they forever be haunted by their collective aberrations.

Perhaps the most recognised advert is the ‘ISA ISA’ offering, where a gormless woman (perceptively described by a female friend of mine as “a lobotomised Count Dracula”) forges a link between a popular fiscal instrument and a frozen cube of water. Rapturous with her discovery, she nods her head repeatedly, her bug eyes overcome with delirium, before playing Vanilla Ice’s seminal 90s hit, ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Truly, she is my nemesis, someone for whom the word ‘ISA’ is akin to the meaning of life, the Holy Grail dangled in front of her vampirian features.

However, the clincher is the loose head movement circa 0:18 (see link below) as if she’s got a little bit carried away and decided to throw in some ‘what-you-looking-at-sister’ shit, or is alternatively deep-threatening thin air. After spending some time reviewing all 30 seconds of this affront to humanity, one starts to notice extra items of horror. Check-out the dude in the background from 0:15 onwards (link below). Look at the concern on his face as he squints at Count Von Count and the-poor man’s lurch, going so far as to pretend that he’s attempting to twiddle some dials to stop the horror show. Is he intended to be a narrative conscience seeking to redress the balance between omnipotent corporate juggernaut and poor consumer who has to sit back and swallow this kack? It pains me to say it, but I can imagine a corporate suit saying on first play that the advert’s too white, hence the inclusion of the background gent. Cynical? Possibly, although I recall my old law firm including a black businessman in its trainee prospectus when they didn’t have any ethnic minority staff amongst their 400 or so employees. Shocking.

Can I motorboat your grandma?

I can do no better than offer up an alternative dialogue:

“Wankerfaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaax……….

Bell-end1: You know people think this advert’s piss-poor and that I’m a bit of a wanker. Are they right?

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: That’s a bit strong. I mean, I appreciate that it might not be to everyone’s taste, but a complete tosser?

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: People can be so mean. I put hours of training into my ‘keys in the air routine’.

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: Do you just say the same thing over and over again?

Voice: yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bell-end1: So if I say yeh-yeh-yeah to you, you’ll just say…

Voice: …yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bellend1: Wow! This is cool!

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bellend1: Yeh-yeh-yeah!!

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.

Bellend1: Yeh-yeh-yeah!!

Voice: Yeh-yeh-yeah.”

And so it continues on loop until the ISA vampire crashes through the glass window and ruptures bellend1’s jonson during a savage, forced blowjob. Amen.

Bullet Time

Those familiar with The Matrix will understand the phrase ‘bullet time’. This was a tag used to describe the stylised slowing of an action sequence, with the camera circling an almost stationary object, while another object would pass by it, seemingly defying gravity. The effect was undeniably cool, and still is in the right circumstances. No doubt inspired by the antics of Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne, Halifax’s marketing team thought they would ramp their campaign up a notch and deliver their own brand of bullet time to the masses. Check out the slow nod at 0:13 – blink and you’ll miss it.

It’s hard to establish whether bullet-girl is worse than the ISA vampire, a little bit like arguing for Fred West at the exclusion of Josef Fritzl, however while the gormless knob twiddling is undeniably offensive, the head-shaking of the Count secures the win.

Whereas ISA saw only one member of backroom staff, on this occasion he’s joined by an invariable posse. Rather sadly, it seems as if he’s dropped the pretence of sabotage (or been coerced into conformity) and can instead be seen larking around for no particular reason. In terms of the rhythm of the performance, the blonde lady makes a fist of patenting a sort of shoulder shuffle, however she fails to make the beat which is a poor show considering the offering is light indie fare in the form of the Lightning Seeds rather than an Aphex Twin B-side.

Helpful wanking

The problem with these types of adverts, of which Halifax is only a prominent example, is that while the corporate suits know its cack, they also know full well that the masses will buy into it, which in itself is a damning indictment of society. Among the key ingredients to such a campaign is an equal mix of the bland and the low-brow, with the sinister end-goal of befriending the viewer through familiarity. This allows the consumer to identify with the brand so that when he sees a Halifax sign, he’ll think ‘they’re OK’ when of course he doesn’t have the first clue about their corporate governance or ethical policy. Particularly galling are the attempts of banks to promote themselves as run by ordinary Joes (NatWest, say), which is about as convincing as The Daily Mail sponsoring a gay rights protest.

Much better, of course, are those adverts that don’t take themselves seriously, and are capable of tickling the ribs. My favourite advert of all time remains a Lockets advert from circa 1998, when some ruddy faced podger bleats about the merits of the upper class. The acting is exemplary and the lines magnificent. It was a sensation all around our sixth form, where a muted cry of “Daddy gave me this land” could invariably be found at the back of the classroom. Luuuuuuvely soft fillie.

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“MY SHOES…COST MORE…THAN YOUR HOUSE!!!”

– Ric ‘The Nature Boy’ Flair, former WWF champion

“What I’d like to have right now is for all you high-rolling Atlantic City sweat hogs to keep the noise down while I take my robe off and give the ladies a good look at the sexiest man alive…hit the music.”

– ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, former WWF Intercontinental champion

For a period in the late eighties and early nineties, I was obsessed with the camp hysteria of WWF, a multi-million entertainment machine comprised of drug-popping egocentrics and psychopaths performing character-based wrestling for the baying masses. Nowadays, the yoof have a bevy of opportunities to escape from reality: high-definition computer games, iphones not to mention on-tap porn, but for my generation, commodore 64s, swingball and marbles was how we got our kicks, that was until our WWF awakening.

It was the recent death of the legendary ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage that prompted this recent trip down memory lane, which has left me paralysed with rapture on a nightly basis as I pore over YouTube footage of one-time WWF superstar Yokozuna lowering his beastly anus onto the face of Mr Perfect, Ric Flair listing his garage contents in a way that would make even P Diddy blush and Gorilla Monsoon talking about someone’s bread-basket. Steve Jobs can stick his keynotes about wanky overpriced shiny consumer bullshit to himself – the Cowboy’s all about cut price spandex and a free dream sleeper hold. HELL YEAH!

That’s confidence, Gorilla

To say that I can remember my first WWF experience would be a lie. As time passes, my memory continues to recoil from the effects of too much cheap cider, allowing wrestling idols and matches to merge into a fuddled tapestry of biceps and brawn. I recall luring my dad, as only the single child of divorced parents can do on a Saturday afternoon, into tawdry video shops in Jersey, angling for another VHS tape of the latest wrestling action from across the pond. My early obsessions were Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts with his sexual tash and pet python, and Rick ‘The Body’ Martel, a comedy narcissist who rarely won a match worth remembering, but was never to be seen without a dicky bow on his naked chest and a ridiculous contraption that purported to spray the world’s most expensive cologne.

However while these obsessions were intense, they were short lingering. I soon realised that the Snake was a grumpy sod whose snake never actually ate anyone and Martel had no substance to back up the style. The federation tried to push the personality void, Andre the Giant and the jarringly populist, Hulk Hogan, onto the impressionable youngsters, however for me there was only ever one choice: ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude aka the sexiest man alive. Hit the motherfucking music.

He got him

Along with Ric Flair (more on him later) Rude was one of the few wrestlers of that era to truly nail the art of authentic wrestling pantomime. Where most viewers tuned in for the fight, Rude was all about the pre-march interview, where he would stand angled to the camera, tilt back his head with a lecherous sneer to unveil his Magnum, P.I. tash, occasionally offering some enthusiastic put-down of his lesser mortal opponents. Once in the ring, he would demand the mike and heckle the audience about his supposed good looks before dropping the dressing gown and gyrating his crouch like a performing gigolo. The beauty with Rude was his raison d’être: to be perfectly ridiculous, a spirited antidote to the earnestness of Hogan and the sickly buffoonery of the Warrior. Perhaps his finest hour was his title triumph against the said Warrior, when he dropped his gown to unveil the Intercontinental belt coloured onto the front of his trousers and a crude caricature of the Warrior on his arse cheeks. Enjoy the words from legendary commentary duo Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon.

As if having a perm, tash and six-pack wasn’t enough, Rude gains further kudos by virtue of his birth name: Richard Erwin Rood. The man was even born cool. While this fact (dispensed recently by a wise friend) came as something of a pleasant surprise, it was with little shock to learn that Rude’s death at the tragically young age of 40 was due to an overdose on anabolic steroids (if you look back at the previous clip, his apparent lack of a todger may be a give away). Apparently he was survived by his wife and three children, and I can only imagine how awesome it would be to say that your Dad was Rude, albeit of scant consolation for his premature departure. Criminally, the recent WWE All Stars computer game – with its roster of old favourites – omitted Rude together with the Flair. One can only hope they’re saving them up for the invariable 2012 version.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Unlike the perennially under-rated Rude, Richard Morgan Fliehr aka Rick ‘The Nature Boy’ Flair is WWF (and WCW) royalty having accumulated 16 world titles in his various stints over all manner of wrestling associations down the years. The key to Flair’s appeal was the look: short dumpy old man with boobs and a terrible haircut, but a twinkle in the eye and more charisma than Bill Clinton at a meeting of office interns. His finisher was also the crowd pleasing figure-four-leglock; a devilishly painful move that I learnt and mastered at an early age along with the million dollar dream sleeper hold, sharpshooter and Boston crab.

Flair was traditionally a bad guy and is often cited as the dirtiest wrestler in history, frequently gouging opponents and playing loose with the rules. His other antics include the signature cry of “woooo!!” both before, during and after a fight, for no apparent reason other than its patent amusement. He also developed a bizarre method of falling flat on his face, as if in a trance like state, in what I always believed to be a tactic of luring the opponent into thinking he had the upper hand, as well as flipping around the ring like a fish out of water. Amazingly, Flair was wrestling up to this year, meaning he has been wrestling for close to 40 years but it seems as if he’s now settled for a position behind the cameras. Despite his recent retirement, appetite for the Flair charm is as ferocious as ever, with the Carolina Hurricanes ice-hockey team using Flair’s signature cry to celebrate every home goal scored. I’m not sure how WWF goes down amongst middle-class Devonians, but I might make a spirited pitch to the Exeter Chiefs’ rugby board to ask that it make a similar homage to Flair. Despite his unrivalled successes, Flair is not immune to the seemingly standard post-wrestling death/meltdown, with his originally titled ‘Ric Flair Finance’ company opening for trade in September 2007, before Flair filed for bankruptcy in early 2008. In terms of clips of the great man in action, I can do no better than this ray of pure sunshine, followed up by some vintage Flair acrobatics:

Oh Yeaaaaaah

The golden age of WWF saw numerous rivalries: Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart v Mr Perfect, Undertaker v The Ultimate Warrior, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase v Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, ‘Sergeant’ Slaughter v Hulk Hogan and – perhaps most famously of all – Hogan v the late ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.

I always had a lot of time for Randy Savage, a visual oddity who bore an uncanny resemblance to Animal from The Muppets with a mane of stringy hair and a dense beard hiding his peculiarly small mouth. His physique was intimidating with every ripped muscle seemingly inflated to its maximum capacity. When he spoke, a gravelly ashtray spewed its contents at the microphone, his grizzly tones occasionally infiltrated with some African American jive, not dissimilar from Vic Reeves singing in the style of a club singer on Shooting Stars. The words that came from his minute mouth seldom made sense and the overall appearance was that of a junkie experiencing a drug high and comedown simultaneously, which turned out not to be too far from the truth.

In the ring, the Macho Man was peerless, combining occasional dirty tactics with genuine athleticism and clinical execution. Favourite moves include the ‘hair-pull hangman’ where he would run at the ropes holding his opponent’s hair in his hand, before bouncing their throat off the top rope; the ferocious running clothesline and the greatest finisher of all time: the flying elbow off the top turnbuckle.

She wants a rude awakening

The flying elbow was the perfect marriage of simplicity and aesthetic crowd-pleaser. While a basic move in many respects, Savage seemed to hang in the air for seconds before landing the crunching connection. Whereas some finishers, such as the ludicrous ‘three point stance’ offered by ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Dugan, failed to merge seamlessly into the pin, the flying elbow allowed Savage a second to marvel at his work before hoisting up a leg to seal the deal. It is worth remembering that the elbow was really stage two of the finisher, invariably being preceded by the tried-and-tested scoop slam.

The scoop-slam I remember the most came during the epic Savage v Hogan fight of Wrestlemania V when Savage surrendered his belt to the moustached mega-brand. Although not a precursor on that occasion to the finisher, Macho Man did land the patented elbow prompting Jesse Ventura into a rapturous squeal of “he got him!” However Savage was vanquished by Hogan’s shit leg-drop finisher in what must surely go down as the greatest travesty of justice in the history of sporting entertainment.

Before dwelling on the fight itself, it’s worth reviewing the background. Savage and Hogan had been a celebrated tag team known as ‘The Mega Powers’ who were managed by Savage’s off-screen wife, Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a kind of low-grade Princess Diana figure in the wrestling scene and frequently subject to the sexual advances of other wrestlers, including the lecherous Hogan (see below) and – more amusingly – the Nature Boy. WOOOO!

The Mega Powers disbanded following a disastrous Royal Rumble when Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage. There then followed a period of goading, with Savage accusing Hogan of trying to tap Miss Elizabeth, backing up his claims with cleverly edited footage showing Hogan in various states of flirtation with the Princess. Hogan hit back, giving interviews to showcase unedited footage of his encounters with Elizabeth complete with innocent explanations to rebut the salacious claims. Matters came to a head at Wrestlemania V at the Trump Plaza in New Jersey, when Savage – now officially ‘a baddy’ – came up against Hogan managed by the ho-for-hire that was Miss Elizabeth.

Puke-a-mania will die right here, Gorilla

As is par for the course in such headline fights, the match went for an eternity. Watching its five parts on YouTube some twenty years later, I laughed all the way through as Jesse Ventura puts on a commentary masterclass, labelling Elizabeth ‘a gold digger’ and rightly hailing the Macho Man at every possible opportunity (“Macho – you ARE a great champion”).

Despite the Body’s audio treats, the match itself was a non-event, featuring much posturing, headlocks and hair pulling. All the while, ‘the pukestars’ as the Body calls Hulk’s fans, scream every time he moves. Towards the end, Macho starts pulling out his repertoire of knee drops and chokeholds before clambering to the top turnbuckle and delivering the greatest flying elbow of his career. Despite knowing the result, I watched fixated, sure it was over, but then the inexplicable happened…

Aside from always liking to back the underdog, my dislike of Hogan as well as the Ultimate Warrior rests with their super-hero ‘powers of recovery’ whereby no matter how badly they’re getting bummed, they can at any given moment puff out their cheeks, charge around the ring and land a pin at will. While of course the whole charade is staged entertainment, for your purist writer, this was a step too far, and I’ll let the tape show you what did indeed happen after Savage landed the elbow (incidentally, note Savage being genuinely hurt after landing his elbow).

I am a real American

Shocking. The years after the fight saw Savage turn into a visual car-crash, as he engaged in a further feud with The Ultimate Warrior whom he attacked with his intercontinental belt during a Warrior v Sergeant Slaughter fight, before the Warrior defeated him at Wrestlemania VII. By this time, Savage was being managed by the wonderfully named ‘Sensational Sherri’ (think Amy Winehouse cross-bred with Grace Jones) who shamelessly attacked him while he lay vanquished on the canvass. Miss Elizabeth raced in to intervene prompting some closing good will for her and Savage, despite his past misdemeanours.

It will surprise most non-wrestling fans to know that they will likely have seen Savage in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, with Savage playing ‘Bonesaw’ who sported the trademark beard, albeit a heavily dyed version of the early incarnation. It was a shame that his film career failed to kick on, as I’m sure Martin Lawrence could have ordered an extra rubber mask for Big Momma’s House 3.

As for the death itself, reports state that he lost control of his Jeep Wrangler and slammed into a tree near Tampa, Florida. While a heart attack at the wheel was a rumoured cause, the autopsy was ‘inconclusive’ with the smart money surely being placed on the traditional cocktail of prescription drugs. Indeed, both Sensational Sheri and Miss Elizabeth died while chasing the dragon, respectively in 2007 and 2003. In Miss Elizabeth’s case, she was shacked-up with Lex Lugar thus laying bear the incestual nature of WWF’s Golden Age. You couldn’t write this shit.

I must confess to having little clue as to the main players in today’s glitzy world of WWE. While at my sixth-form college, wrestling did have a renaissance, with various Sky recordings being delivered into the common room for mass consumption. The tape that sticks in my mind included the infamous fight between Mick Foley’s ‘Mankind’ and The Undertaker, a brutal spectacle that would make the most ardent denouncer of all things make-believe appreciate the skill and bravery on show. I’d like to stay and write more but I’VE GOT A LIMOUSINE WAITING OUTSIDE THAT’S A MILE LONG, WITH TWENTY-FIVE WOMAN JUST DYING FOR ME TO GO WOO!

“And I did laugh sans intermission an hour by his dial. O noble fool, a worthy fool — motley’s the only wear.”

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

“I got attention by being funny at school, pretending to be retarded, and jumping around with a deformed hand.”

– Leonardo DiCaprio

In my working life, I tend to view myself as two separate entities. The first is the physical creation that listlessly shuffles between office, kitchen and bathroom for a prescribed number of hours of the working day, while the second is the conscious voice – the real me, as it were. He is a detached observer, curiously interested in the minutiae of the daily routine: how the physical me changes the pace of his morning pleasantries depending on the climate; whether the woman with the superman tattoo is aware that I have no idea who she is; and what would happen if I elected on Fridays only to speak in the voice of Masterchef hero Greg Wallace (“I tell you wot, [insert name of client], I’ve just faaarkan completed your sale”), South African cricket commentator Tony Greig (“Oh ma lord, the buyer reeeeeelly needs to cum to da partee”) or maybe even Big Momma (“Child, why don’t yo give big momma yo bank details for a CHAPS transfer?”).

This notion of separating mind from body is an essential tool when it comes to dealing with life’s trials and tribulations, a mechanism which we all utilise to minimise the stresses, either through conscious effort or on a subliminal level. I anticipate that it’s not too dissimilar from the technique police officers employ when dealing with the degenerates of society, skipping into a form of auto-pilot while they laugh internally at the youth’s Roman numeral tattoo, simultaneously noting down his alcohol-muddled observations on the latest street-knuckle fight.

These thoughts were prompted during my viewing of the latest instalment in the Big Momma’s House trilogy: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, a cinematic aberration to many that makes one ponder whether Lawrence was consciously committing career suicide with his blinkered faith in fat-suit comedy, or if he could calmly detach himself from the critical mauling to gently massage his swelling bank account. The more I replay in my mind the flimsy plot and insipid dialogue of Like Father, Like Son (let’s call it Big Momma 3 for ease of reference), the more I find in favour of the latter verdict, prompting the question of whether Lawrence is playing a crafty long-game by luring us into complacency before delivering a celebratory remake of Citizen Kane in front of a packed house of fawning critics.

Oh child

Big Momma first shook the box office in 2000 under the perfunctory title ‘Big Momma’s House’. While houses did occupy some of the running time, the movie was essentially a vehicle for Lawrence to fat-up and delve into his dubious comedy locker. The plot can be broken down as follows: Lawrence and Paul Giammatti are FBI undercover agents sent to stake out the house of Hattie Mae (affectionately known as ‘Big Momma’), who is housing the ex-girlfriend (Sherry) of a wanted crim. The stakeout meanders along with little to maintain the interest until Mae leaves the house for a few weeks, prompting Lawrence to have the masterstroke of dressing up as Big Momma; cue cutting-edge jokes such as the semi-naked Sherry asking Big Momma whether she is hiding a flashlight beneath her pyjamas. As is de rigeur for such undercover capers, Lawrence is almost rumbled when out of his fat suit, swiftly recovering his poise by pretending to be Big Momma’s handyman. Slowly but surely and without a hint of stereotyping, the plain-clothed Lawrence finds himself falling for Sherry and her wayward son, Trent, and does crazy shit like take them fishing. To the shock of the educated viewer, the clueless Sherry is unable to smell a rat, even when looking into Lawrence’s expressionless rubber face.

That’s my jam

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Big Momma failed to receive a single Oscar nomination, not even best make-up. Rather than appreciate its pioneering attempts to revolutionise the portrayal of southern african-american woman in modern cinema, ill-informed critics sought to destroy the franchise:

“Big Momma’s House…involves a gloatingly unpleasant, jeering view of old woman’s bodies which is intensified by [Lawrence’s] protective feelings for Sherry and her young son.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“You may find yourself waiting for a commercial break but sadly, it never comes.”

CNN

“The feeble plot is forgotten for vast stretches of the movie, which is an excuse for tedious slapstick, jokes against fat people, flatulence gags and sexist leering. Three of the best comedies – Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire – had actors dressed up as women. This is one of the worst.”

The Daily Mail

Unperturbed by the critical roasting, Big Momma romped through the box office to collect a staggering $174 million worldwide, which is surely the very least that a film containing the following dialogue should deserve:

“Sherry: Oh, it’s so good to see you, Big Momma. I thought you may have  forgotten all about me.

Lawrence/Big Momma: Shut your mouth, child. Oh, Big Momma could never forget that ass…

Sherry: What?

Lawrence/Big Momma: …ma. Asthma. Do you remember you had asthma?”

Don’t let anyone tell you that Jesus’ sacrifice was in vain.

Guuuuuuuuurl, please

For Big Momma’s second offering, Lawrence and Co decided to ratchet the series up a notch, an approach hinted at by the dazzling film title: Big Momma’s House 2. In addition to the usual family-plus-Big-Momma set-up, BMH2 benefits from a hyper-active pooch called Poncho. In one playful scene, Big Momma – feeling sorry for the designer mutt – slips some booze into his doggy bowel and urges him ‘to get [his] tilt on’. BMH2 also saw an early cinematic outing for Chloe Morritz (the young daughter ‘Karrie’), who rightly garnered rave reviews for her performance as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and put in a decent turn as a vampire in the American remake of Let The Right One In. When she looks back on what promises to be an illustrious career, I hope she has the good grace to dedicate every single award to Lawrence.

As for the man himself, Lawrence throws the kitchen sink of fat-woman-clichés at BMH2 including crazy dancing, bare-fleshed spa treatment, jet skiing and swimsuit exposure with complimentary braids (think Bo Derek in 10 but with a little more junk in the trunk). However the film’s high watermark is Big Momma’s celebratory dance routine (see below) where she dons a skimpy cheerleading outfit to help Karrie’s dance troupe to a standing ovation. While Lawrence’s ability to act through eyes alone is undoubtedly worth the entrance fee, check out the diva pout of Karrie’s fellow cheerleader at 1:55.

She raiiiiiiised a Heffer!!!

Like the first Big Momma, BM2 defied expectations to take an imposing $140 million worldwide; to put that in perspective, Clear and Present Danger took approximately $200 million. Clearly, the people were hungry for more momma and just like Arnie with the Terminator franchise, Lawrence delivered what the crowd wanted: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son aka BM3.

Where BM2 brought an animal into proceedings, BM3 introduces another fan of the fat suit, none other than Trent, Lawrence’s step son, perhaps better known as ‘Alpa Chino’ from Tropic Thunder. Perhaps his most memorable moment in Stiller’s blacked-up masterpiece occurs when Robert Downey Junior (he of the painted face) interrogates Chino over his choice of supposed girlfriend, ‘Lance’: “When you wrote ‘I Love Tha’ Pussy’, was you thinking about danglin’ yo’ dice on Lance’s forehead?”

Where some may be embarrassed to admit, I revel in the fact that my erstwhile Big Momma enthusiast and I braved a bleak Exeter evening to attend a screening of BM3, shamelessly paying the full fare and then taking out seats amongst the needy and depraved of society. The calibre of the Big Momma fan base was perhaps best summarised by the old man wearing a Hawaiian shirt two rows in front of us who kept jumping up and whooping at impromptu moments. My friend gesticulated towards the loon as a source of amusement, but I quickly realised he was genuinely ill, or it was at least a borderline case.

Amidst the horror of the crowd was the imposing spectre of BM3, not to mention the weight of expectation: after jet skiing, dancing and spa treatment, what further humiliations could be inflicted upon this poor stereotype? Never one to disappoint, Lawrence went full retard and laid on a banquet of depravity including life model classes, twister and yet more truffle-shuffling. Rightly or wrongly, I openly cried with rapture when Big Momma fell through the table (see 1:10 of the trailer below) while my companion beat his knees profusely, the tears similarly reigning down onto the floor, like the blows of a high school bully on an acne-ridden weed.

…but you can call me big momma

Despite BM devotees flocking to their local multiplex, the critics finally got their wish as Big Momma tanked to a worldwide box office of $61 million, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 6% (come on, people!). In fact according to Wiki, the film’s backers decided to shield it from critical abuse with the film ‘not screened in advance for critics’, perhaps unsurprising when it’s likely to be as warmly received as a limited edition copy of The Story of Little Black Sambo at a Martin Luther King remembrance rally. Having never been a fan of Mark Kermode, my faith in the good doctor took a further nose dive after his following one-line verdict on BM3: “comedy blokes in fat suits doing nothing funny for a long time while all you can hear is [silence].” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who despaired at the first BM instalment but is otherwise a bastion for the infantile as well as the serious, finally turned his back on Lawrence:

“Like Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer famous for defending some of the most questionable clients, I have in the past made a case for the comedian Martin Lawrence. I have giggled guiltily at his medieval romp Black Knight. I have chortled at Blue Streak. And the sheer, confrontational crassness of his Big Momma movies – in which he plays an FBI agent who repeatedly finds it expedient to disguise himself as a very fat woman – occasionally gets a jaded laugh. But there must have been moments when Dershowitz, having made an impassioned plea to the judge, turned round to find his client loudly planning his next robbery or murder on the phone. That is kind of how I feel now.”

Upon reading this review, I reflected on my experiences at the cinema at BM3 and came to a sad acceptance that, save for Big Momma falling through the table and playing twister, there had been little to capture the imagination. However I then recalled the name of Trent’s female alter-ego – Charmaine – and realised that there was something far cleverer at work: irony. Aware that the film was shit, Lawrence – in a flight of inspired fancy – had decided to name one of the characters after a brand of household toilet roll, a move which makes one wonder whether Oscars beckon in the future.

In terms of his future, I – like Peter Bradshaw deep-down – hope that Lawrence recaptures his mojo. However, it’s clear that he has become indistinguishable from Big Momma, a statement backed-up with the following Wiki fact: “during August 1999, Lawrence slipped into a three-day coma after collapsing from heat exhaustion while jogging in 100-degree heat while wearing several layers of heavy clothing. He recovered in the hospital after nearly dying from a body temperature of 107 °F (41.7 °C).” When a man dresses like Big Momma in his spare time, you know things have gone wrong. However, let’s not dwell on the bad. Check out the below link for some classic Momma and go forth and get yo’ tilt on.

After the non-events that are January and February, what with everyone trudging around in a fog of overbearing depression, it is with great relief that the Cowboy finds himself inhabiting March, a month rich with high-end cultural offerings, including the Coens’True Grit, new Bright Eyes album The People’s Key and Martin Lawrence’s Big Mommas: Like Fathers Like Sons, the conclusion of a genre-defining trilogy in which Lawrence showed what could be achieved with a fat suit and some crude racial stereotypes. Just in case this isn’t enough to sate your creative appetites, we’re now well into the latter stages of Masterchef, a show that poses as many questions as it provides answers: will Greg Wallace literally cream himself while hoovering a note-perfect soufflé?; how long into each episode before John Torode implores [insert name] ‘to deliver on flavour?; can the woman responsible for the show’s voiceover take her husky delivery to the next level by moving down yet another octave? Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Pending my forthcoming review of the latest Big Momma instalment (now seen since first half of this list was posted – review to come), I have been ransacking YouTube’s archives for fleeting moments of joy from my favourite comedy shows. I’ve gone for the tried and tested ‘top-ten’ angle, so a lot of decent stuff failed to make the cut including, in no particular order of merit: Blackadder, The Fast Show, The Simpsons, Peep Show, The Day Today, The Harry Hill Show, Southpark and The Office (American version).

10. Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister [BBC]

Satire is one of the hardest comedy genres to pull off. When done badly, in can be smug, indulgent and seriously dull (anything involving Bird and Fortune). However, when tightly written and skilfully acted (Yes Minister and the subsequent Yes, Prime Minister), the result is a slow-burning pleasure, being both interesting and extremely funny. Most fans will pick out Nigel Hawthorne’s velvet tongued spin doctor (sorry, permanent secretary) as the show’s fulcrum, but I was always drawn to Paul Eddington’s excellent minister, Jim Hacker, a loveable buffoon who never seemed to know what was going on around him, a premonition of George Bush (“now watch this drive”), perhaps.  The link below finds Hacker PM eloquently dissecting the journalistic appetite in British shores, with ample support from his private secretary.

9. Beavis and Butt-head [MTV]

Few things are more pleasurable than crying with laughter, provided that the outpouring of mirth doesn’t take place at a funeral, hospital waiting room or in the midst of an anticipated sexual encounter. The first conscious memory I have of doing so was watching the credits to Beavis and Butt-head roll at the start of their four-year tenure on MTV during the early/mid-nineties. The opening credits, monotonous guffawing from Butt-head and pitch-shifting cackles from Beavis, captured the essence of the show: two illiterate juveniles getting excited by nothing. Their feature-length film – Beavis and Butt-head Do America – remains a personal favourite. The plot is, of course, ridiculous and gets under way with a character voiced by Bruce Willis (one of numerous celebrity voices) asking the protagonists to “do” his wife (as in murder), which they wrongly interpret as a chance to score, cue a surreal road-trip involving gambling old ladies, the Hoover Dam and The White House. As ever, the dialogue is delightfully silly:

“Beavis: Yeah. We’re gonna score.

Little Old Lady: Oh, well, I hope to score big there, myself. I’m mostly gonna be doing the slots.

Beavis: Yeah, yeah. I’m hoping to do some sluts, too. Yeah. Do they have a lot of sluts in Las Vegas?

Little Old Lady: Oh, there are so many slots, you won’t know where to begin.

Beavis: Whoa. Hey, Butt-Head, this chick is pretty cool. She says there’s gonna be tons of sluts in Las Vegas.

Butt-head: Cool.

Little Old Lady: It’s so nice to meet young men who are so well-mannered.

Beavis: Yeah. I’m gonna have money and a big screen TV and there’s gonna be sluts everywhere. It’s gonna rule.

Little Old Lady: Well, that’s nice.”


8. Curb Your Enthusiasm [HBO]

Current TV schedules are packed full of faux-reality shows, from LA puke-fest The Hills to television’s answer to Chernobyl, aka The Only Way is Essex. Other recent incarnations include David Crane’s Episodes, featuring his former Friends’ star, Matt LeBlanc, playing a parody of an actor not dissimilar in mannerisms to Matt LeBlanc. The blurring of reality lines is not confined to the small screen, with Jean–Claude Van Damme getting his art house game together in JCVD, a surprisingly enjoyable film where Damme plays a washed-up action star, ergo himself. This modern trend of celebrity parody owes a great debt to Larry David’s sublime Curb Your Enthusiasm, which follows the Seinfield co-creator through the daily grind of D-list Hollywood life. David is a revelation, disenchanted with the world and people that inhabit it. Where a ‘normal person’ will tolerate the disingenuous chat offered-up by till staff at a corporate coffee chain, David’s character refuses to accept the bullshit and openly challenges or undermines anything he doesn’t agree with. One of the greatest moments takes place where one player at an after dinner poker game fails to go all-in despite possessing an ace high. Appalled that no-one seems to be taking the game seriously, David playfully calls him a cunt prompting everyone to make their excuses and leave. Hero.

7. The Thick of It [BBC]

Often described as a modern re-working of Yes Minister (see above), The Thick of It similarly follows the inner workings of British government, firstly through clueless minister Hugh Abbot (closely aligned to Jim Hacker) and then through his inexperienced successor Nicola Murray, played as a ditsy, highly-strung career-female parody by The Day Today’s Rebecca Front. Both ministers are ‘advised’ by a ramshackle group of self-obsessed civil servants, an eclectic mix of lifers and youthful sycophants (stand-up comic Chris Addison). In terms of structure, the episodes follow a traditional set-up of a central farcical situation being handled by inept staff, thus building a gradual snowball of hilarity. Particularly enjoyable is Peter Capaldi’s demonic spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, a globally feared bullocking machine whose authoritative presence perfectly exposes the political inadequacies of his charges. The success of The Thick of It is the marriage between note-perfect comedy performances (the actors also provide much adlibbed material) and the inspired writing of Armando Ianucci (Alan Partridge), Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) and various other collaborators, including posh-boy stand-up and Jersey export, Will Smith. Some choice clips below from movie feature In The Loop.

6. Phoenix Nights [Channel 4]

“Keith Lard? Yeh, he got done for in’fering with dogs.” “He got off though, didn’t he?” “Yeh, you try getting an Alsatian to testify.”

Long before selling out venues across the land with enthusiastic renditions of family weddings and Teletext holidays, Kay could be found sipping pina coladas in the Phoenix Club as fictional social club owner, Brian Potter, a wheel-chair bound tightwad with delusions of grandeur. The success of Phoenix Nights owed much to the supporting cast, including chauvinistic bouncers Max and Paddy (“I wouldn’t mind ‘anging out of that”), mulleted DJ “Ray Von” and Potter’s social club nemesis, Den Perry (“like I say, she has got a cock, so you have been warned”). Classic episodes include a psychic evening hosted by Clinton Baptiste (“I’m getting the word…..NONCE”), episode 1 guest-featuring Roy Walker and racist folk-band “Half a Shilling” and the imported bouncy castle complete with an inflatable cock and balls. However, Kay’s greatest creation is the uber-anal fire safety officer, Keith Lard (played by Kay), who’s comic mileage is derived from a past charge of bestiality. Unfortunately the quality of the clip leaves a lot to be desired, but captures all the key dog-related quips. If you don’t own both series on DVD, get involved.

5. Knowing Me, Knowing You/I’m Alan Partridge [BBC]

It’s pretty difficult to write anything original about the Partridge character, widely-recognised as Steve Coogan’s finest moment, shortly behind balling Courtney Love and being blamed for the attempted suicide of Owen Wilson. That is a little harsh, perhaps, with Coogan having been in resplendent form of late, triumphing over Rob Brydon in Michael Caine impressions on The Trip (see below), and penning a pitch-perfect damnation of the boorish Top Gear in The Observer. Partridge, least we forget, was also the brainchild of Armando Ianucci, later creator The Thick of It, and celebrated stand-ups Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. Highlights from the show are numerous, with choice offerings including the Bald Brummies Against The Big Footed Conspiracy Party, the “cock piss partridge” car graffiti, not to mention the oft-quoted “monkey tennis” meltdown, as Partridge pleads, unsuccessfully, for a second television series before shoving a round cheese in a BBC executive’s face.  Give me a second series YOU SHIT.

4. Black Books [Channel 4]

The brainchild of Father Ted’s Graham Linehan and stand-up god Dylan Moran, Black Books was never going to be jostling with My Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and My Hero for the shitest sitcom in history award. Not content with a stellar creative team, it roped in Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig to be the (relatively) straight guys to Moran’s unhinged central character, Bernard, a bonkers alchy who runs a would-be pretentious second-hand book shop with a nihilistic attitude to its success, or indeed lack of. The show is brilliantly set-up, with Manny (Bailey) endearingly seeking to change Bernard’s lackadaisical ways, while Fran pretends to have similar intentions, despite being self-obsessed by her own neuroses and shortcomings.  The group have an excellent dynamic, while benefiting from line after line of fantastic writing, as well as the occasional inspired visual gag (the sweeping finger of dust shown in the clip below). As Masterchef’s Greg Wallace might say while motorboating a breast-shaped chocolate fudge cake at his favourite stand-up gig, “I tell you what, John, comedy don’t get much faaaaarkhan better than this.”


3. Flight of the Conchords [HBO]

Watching the first series of the Conchords’ eponymous TV series was a joyous experience, akin to the time when I innocently purchased a football magazine and found a dog-eared copy of Razzle locked in its laminated embrace. The show worked on numerous levels, mixing traditional structured plots with irreverent musical interludes. Cross-referencing it with Beavis & Butthead, it’s hard not to see similarities. Like MTV’s slacker delinquents, Jermaine and Brett suck at everything they do, only coming to life in the alternative world of their musical parodies, where real-life limitations are cast-aside in favour of surreal and outlandish riffings on hermaphrodite ladies, racist greengrocers and Ravi Shanker. It is these music features that lend the show its genius, with the music from the first series having – at the time of writing – racked-up over 400 cumulative plays on my iTunes. With lyrics such as “a kiss is not a contract but it’s very nice, just because we’ve been playing tonsil hockey doesn’t mean you get to score the goal that’s in my jockey” it’s hard to find flaws.

2. Father Ted [Channel 4]

It’s a toss-up for first place between this and Bottom, with only a gnat’s pube between the two. In the end, Bottom secured top spot because of the furious energy which carries the whole show, although the more I type, the more I wriggle with mirth at the images of Bishop Brennan, tearing down the garden screaming “Crilly!!!!!” (Father Ted Crilly to you and me), before bending him over and laying a slippery boot on his backside. Such is the appeal of Father Ted: off-the-wall humour, colourful characters glued together by a warmly dysfunctional household. The show ages remarkably well, no better evidenced by a recent showing of the viewer’s choice episode (Speed 3) on the Father Ted night a few months ago. Speed 3 is arguably the series’ finest hour, with a plot centring on a geriatric milkmen (Pat Mustard) who delivers his own variant on full fat dairy products during his early morning rounds on Craggy Island. Appalled by his antics, Ted brings Mustard’s activities to his superior’s attention, who sacks him shortly after failing in his attempts to steal some murky images of Mustard on the job from the parochial house. Cue a rip off from Hollywood blockbuster Speed, where Dougal (the short-term replacement milkman) must keep the bus above 4 miles per hour. As with the best comedy, the secret is the attention to detail, for example Mustard’s milkfloat being delightfully adorned by the stickers ‘Young Banger’, ‘Shit Happens’ and ‘Milkmen do it on your doorstep’. Gold.

1. Bottom [BBC]

Watching Adrian Edmonson ponce around on mind-numbing soft comedy and drama programs on the Beeb, it’s hard to recall the days when he boasted some comedy pedigree. While I could take or leave The Young Ones (his other notable success, also involving Rik Mayall), Bottom – in which he played the exquisitely named Edward Hitler – became a personal obsession and remains, to this day, the funniest thing I have ever seen. As the name implies, Bottom was as low-brow as it gets, a dismal record of the schemes and activities undertaken by two sad and pathetic desperados starved of sexual activity and with an appetite for casual violence. As with most successful comedy duos, the characters neatly dovetailed: Eddie, a loveable booze-hound prone to boats of genius but generally devoid of any mental acumen; Richard Richard (aka “Richie”, played by Rik Mayall) a deranged pervert and prodigious masturbator who wrongly believes himself to be a member of the English upper-crust. Throughout proceedings, they are joined by equally squalid associates: Dave Hedgehog, a short man with grey hair bereft of social understanding; Spud-gun, a gormless chubber with a monosyllabic delivery and Dick Head, a grouchy barman with a sensible name. Like ACDC, the formula for success is consistent, but what really makes it stand out is the commitment in the performances, with something happening at every moment. Classic episodes include a flutter on one-legged horse ‘Sad Ken’ and the triumphant Halloween episode (extract below). However, the funniest episode to my mind is Dough in which Eddie sets-up a money forging press in his bedroom, creating masterpieces such as the £27 note, in which Sylvester Stallone appears fisting old Mr McHenry from the Magic Roundabout. Classic dialogue below:

“Eddie: They’re the Queen’s jugs (in response to Richie’s query about the strange constitution of Eddie’s forged five pound note).

Richie: A. The Queen doesn’t have jugs, she’s royalty. B. If she did, she certainly wouldn’t get ’em out on the back of a fiver, she’d save ’em up for the fifty!

Eddie: If you have a look at my fifty, you may find it a bit more risqué…

[Richie glances at it and winces]

Richie: Eddie, that’s tantamount to treason!… She’s got three knockers!

Eddie: No, that’s Bobby Charlton in the middle.

Richie: Are you insane? You couldn’t buy these under the counter in Hamburg!

Eddie: That’s the point, mate. The barkeeper will be so mesmerised by the classy erotica, I’ll have had ten pints by the time he realises how crap the squiggly lines are!”

Titbits

A couple of other choice highlights below, including Attention Scum by the League Against Tedium (aka Simon Munnery), Coogan and Brydon in The Trip and old Channel 4 favourite The Harry Hill Show.


After the non-event that is January, what with everyone trudging around in a fog of overbearing depression, it is with great relief that the Cowboy finds himself inhabiting February, a month rich with high-end cultural offerings, including the Coens’True Grit, new Bright Eyes album The People’s Key and Martin Lawrence’s Big Mommas: Like Fathers Like Sons, the conclusion of a genre-defining trilogy in which Lawrence showed what could be achieved with a fat suit and some crude racial stereotypes. Just in case this isn’t enough to sate your creative appetites, the coming week also sees the return of Masterchef, a show that poses as many questions as it provides answers: will Greg Wallace literally cream himself while hoovering a note-perfect soufflé?; how long into the first episode before John Torode implores [insert name] ‘to deliver on flavour?; can the woman responsible for the show’s voiceover take her husky delivery to the next level by moving down yet another octave? Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Pending my forthcoming review of the latest Big Momma instalment, I have been ransacking Youtube’s archives for fleeting moments of joy from my favourite comedy shows. I’ve gone for the tried and tested ‘top-ten’ angle, so a lot of decent stuff failed to make the cut including, in no particular order of merit: Blackadder, The Fast Show, The Simpsons, Peep Show, The Day Today, The Harry Hill Show, Southpark and The Office (American version).

10. Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister [BBC]

Satire is one of the hardest comedy genres to pull off. When done badly, in can be smug, indulgent and seriously dull (anything involving Bird and Fortune). However, when tightly written and skilfully acted (Yes Minister and the subsequent Yes, Prime Minister), the result is a slow-burning pleasure, being both interesting and extremely funny. Most fans will pick out Nigel Hawthorne’s velvet tongued spin doctor (sorry, permanent secretary) as the show’s fulcrum, but I was always drawn to Paul Eddington’s excellent minister, Jim Hacker, a loveable buffoon who never seemed to know what was going on around him, a premonition of George Bush (“now watch this drive”), perhaps.  The link below finds Hacker PM eloquently dissecting the journalistic appetite in British shores, with ample support from his private secretary.

9. Beavis and Butt-head [MTV]

Few things are more pleasurable than crying with laughter, provided that the outpouring of mirth doesn’t take place at a funeral, hospital waiting room or in the midst of an anticipated sexual encounter. The first conscious memory I have of doing so was watching the credits to Beavis and Butt-head roll at the start of their four-year tenure on MTV during the early/mid nineties. The opening credits, monotonous guffawing from Butt-head and pitch-shifting cackles from Beavis, captured the essence of the show: two illiterate juveniles getting excited by nothing. Their feature-length film – Beavis and Butt-head Do America – remains a personal favourite. The plot is, of course, ridiculous and gets under way with a character voiced by Bruce Willis (one of numerous celebrity voices) asking the protagonists to “do” his wife (as in murder), which they wrongly interpret as a chance to score, cue a surreal road-trip involving gambling old ladies, the Hoover Dam and The White House. As ever, the dialogue is delightfully silly:

“Beavis: Yeah. We’re gonna score.

Little Old Lady: Oh, well, I hope to score big there, myself. I’m mostly gonna be doing the slots.

Beavis: Yeah, yeah. I’m hoping to do some sluts, too. Yeah. Do they have a lot of sluts in Las Vegas?

Little Old Lady: Oh, there are so many slots, you won’t know where to begin.

Beavis: Whoa. Hey, Butt-Head, this chick is pretty cool. She says there’s gonna be tons of sluts in Las Vegas.

Butt-head: Cool.

Little Old Lady: It’s so nice to meet young men who are so well-mannered.

Beavis: Yeah. I’m gonna have money and a big screen TV and there’s gonna be sluts everywhere. It’s gonna rule.

Little Old Lady: Well, that’s nice.”

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm [HBO]

Current TV schedules are packed full of faux-reality shows, from LA puke-fest The Hills to television’s answer to Chernobyl, aka The Only Way is Essex. Other recent incarnations include David Crane’s Episodes, featuring his former Friends’ star, Matt LeBlanc, playing a parody of an actor not dissimilar in mannerisms to Matt LeBlanc. The blurring of reality lines is not confined to the small screen, with Jean–Claude Van Damme getting his art house game together in JCVD, a surprisingly enjoyable film where Damme plays a washed-up action star, ergo himself. This modern trend of celebrity parody owes a great debt to Larry David’s sublime Curb Your Enthusiasm, which follows the Seinfield co-creator through the daily grind of D-list Hollywood life. David is a revelation, disenchanted with the world and people that inhabit it. Where a ‘normal person’ will tolerate the disingenuous chat offered-up by till staff at a corporate coffee chain, David’s character refuses to accept the bullshit and openly challenges or undermines anything he doesn’t agree with. One of the greatest moments takes place where one player at an after dinner poker game fails to go all-in despite possessing an ace high. Appalled that no-one seems to be taking the game seriously, David playfully calls him a cunt prompting everyone to make their excuses and leave. Hero.

7. The Thick of It [BBC]

Often described as a modern re-working of Yes Minister (see above), The Thick of It similarly follows the inner workings of British government, firstly through clueless minister Hugh Abbot (closely aligned to Jim Hacker) and then through his inexperienced successor Nicola Murray, played as a ditsy, highly-strung career-female parody by Rebecca Front. Both ministers are ‘advised’ by a ramshackle group of self-obsessed civil servants, an eclectic mix of lifers and youthful sycophants (stand-up comic Chris Addison). In terms of structure, the episodes follow a traditional set-up of a central farcical situation being handled by inept staff, thus building a gradual snowball of hilarity. Particularly enjoyable is Peter Capaldi’s demonic spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, a globally feared bullocking machine whose authoritative presence perfectly exposes the political inadequacies of his charges. The success of The Thick of It is the marriage between note-perfect comedy performances (the actors also provide much adlibbed material) and the inspired writing of Armando Ianucci (Alan Partridge), Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) and various other collaborators, including posh-boy stand-up and Jersey export, Will Smith. Some choice clips below from movie feature In The Loop.

6. Phoenix Nights [Channel 4]

“Keith Lard? Yeh, he got done for in’fering with dogs.” “He got off though, didn’t he?” “Yeh, you try getting an Alsatian to testify.”

Long before selling out venues across the land with enthusiastic renditions of family weddings and Teletext holidays, Kay could be found sipping pina coladas in the Phoenix Club as fictional social club owner, Brian Potter, a wheel-chair bound tightwad with delusions of grandeur. The success of Phoenix Nights owed much to the supporting cast, including chauvinistic bouncers Max and Paddy (“I wouldn’t mind ‘anging out of that”), mulleted DJ “Ray Von” and Potter’s social club nemesis, Den Perry (“like I say, she has got a cock, so you have been warned”). Classic episodes include a psychic evening hosted by Clinton Baptiste (“I’m getting the word…..NONCE”), episode 1 guest-featuring Roy Walker and racist folk-band “Half a Shilling” and the imported bouncy castle complete with an inflatable cock and balls. However, Kay’s greatest creation is the uber-anal fire safety officer, Keith Lard (played by Kay), who’s comic mileage is derived from a past charge of bestiality. Unfortunately the quality of the clip leaves a lot to be desired, but captures all the key dog-related quips. If you don’t own both series on DVD, get involved.

“There are two types of people in the world – winners and… I don’t know how to say the word, I can’t say it, and I won’t say it.”

– Ian Stringer, Series 4 contestant, who didn’t even make it past the third week. LOSER.

“The spoken word is my tool. I’m a terrific conversationalist and raconteur with incredible charisma. I’m priceless, absolutely priceless.”

– Raef Bjayou, Series 4 contestant, offering a masterclass in honesty. Raef was last seen serving undercooked venison to 90s R & B has-been, Michelle Gayle, on Celebrity Come Dine with Me.

Of all the reality entertainment vehicles that have sullied our television sets in recent years, The Apprentice serves up the most consistent stream of inspired goon-comedy; a yearly round-up of delusional gobshites hell-bent on charming a craggy old man with little more than their falsified CVs, and a breathless ability to talk bullocks on demand. Now in its sixth series, the Alan Sugar vanity juggernaut shows no sign of losing its relentlessness, with a BBC2 spin-off show following each weekly episode, a regular features magazine and – I shit you not – an official soundtrack (killer tracks include “The Boardroom” and “You’re Fired”). Simon Cowell eat your todger off.

Shut your faarkahn maarf

Donald Trump working his sex face

 

The Apprentice started its immortal being in America under the stewardship of touped business icon Donald Trump. As soon as the ratings showed Trump was on to a winner, opportunist BBC commissioners clambered aboard the band wagon and swapped a dodgy barnet for a shoddy beard in the form of professional grizzler, Alan Sugar. Not content with one sour-faced bandit, the Beeb allocated him two pessimistic wingmen: Nick Hewer, a vacuum-faced Widow Twankey, whose timeless pursing of the lips is able to convey a thousand double entendres; Margaret Mountford, a bushy haired prude who thinks she’s one step above the Daily Mail, but secretly reads it on the bog when no-one’s looking. The current series of The Apprentice has seen Mountford leave to pursue a Ph.D in papyrology, thus prompting rabid fawning in the broadsheet press over her assumed colossal intellect, when the reality is that she’s got no mates.

Hewer exhibiting his tight Widow Twankey game

The secret of The Apprentice’s longevity is its ability to appeal to the middle-classes, with those who would usually shun The X-Factor regularly tuning in to see Frances suggestively inform the contestants that “Sir Alan is ready to see you now” (“lord” doesn’t trip of the tongue quite so nicely). While the tasks occasionally require a modicum of intellectual acumen, the savvy production team retain an eye on superficial titillation, personified by ‘Frances’ herself. A little research reveals Frances to be a sexed-up version of Sir Alan’s authentic secretary, Frances Penn, who, according to the oracle that is the Daily Mail, is “not really front of house material”, or, to use the vernacular, is a bit of an old munter. Despite the physical charms of the new Frances (a blond young actress called Samantha), Sir Alan insists that she use the name Frances on the show, apparently so he didn’t get confused when making that crucial two second phone call, or – more likely – because girls with free bus passes give him the horn.

Even when I’m sleeping, I’m not really asleep

As much as I enjoy Nick Hewer’s edgy off-camera eye squints, The Apprentice truly comes to the party when the contestants have license to freestyle into the camera about their egos, and there is no finer opportunity to do this than at the beginning of each series when the audition tapes are replayed in all their unflinching horror. While some canny long-game operators exercise admirable restraint and refer only to their killer drive and unquenchable hunger, the majority serve up a barrage of outlandish boasts and self-congratulatory hand-jobs. Despite the colossal volume of knob-jockeys that have appeared on the show since its inception, the prize for the biggest bell-end in the history of bell-ends goes to current incumbent, Stuart “The Brand” Baggs.

Stuart "The Brand" Baggs - possibly the greatest tool in the world

When I think of Baggs, I like to think of a fat snotty kid in a school blazer getting beaten like a ginger step-child outside the school lockers, with the action set to a backing track of raucous children chanting “Ballbaggs” over and over again. At the end of the beating, the young Baggs will struggle to his feet and goad his tormentators with petulant proclamations that he’ll one day be a millionaire, before being sent tumbling again with yet a further flurry of impeccable knuckle action. In my historical utopia, this would happen to Baggs every day of his life, in some sort of poetic justice Groundhog Day set-up. Why the loathing, I hear you cry? Roll the tape:

The problem with Baggs is the absence of a redeeming feature: if he were simply an earnest caricature who comes across as a tosser, I’d just add him to the list of annoying reprobates that dominate the legal profession. However, Baggs clearly relishes being a wanker – check out the moment at 0:03 where he snorts the air triumphantly, utterly captivated by the process of packaging the next diatribe of bullshit to be delivered from his cakehole.  He looks like a cock, too, a kind of devilish mash-up involving a hedgehog and Peter Jones with just a suggestion of a young Jim Broadbent. In his audition tape, Baggs waxes lyrical about how phenomenally interesting his life is, but fails to expand on what exceptional activities he gets up to in his spare time. On closer inspection, Baggs was right to gloss over the detail, as all he does is masturbate excessively. Check out this effortless early morning hand-shandy:

Get on your knees and tell me you love me

Bodger

The sight of Baggs rustling away beneath a duvet gave me an idea to revolutionise The Apprentice boardroom experience: instead of a formal suited firing squad, why not an early morning raid into the contestants’ bedrooms? Imagine the possibilities: Ruth Badger spread eagle over her inadequate single bed hideout, comatose and waking only to hear Sugar’s parting cry of “you’re a total shambles, you’re fired”; Raef proudly waxing his eyebrows only to be rudely interrupted by Hewer’s piercing gaze from around the bedroom door; and, of course, Baggs frantically trying to retrieve his M&S y-fronts from the carpet floor, while simultaneously masking his raging boner. I can almost smell the ratings.

Badger

Amongst the corporate buzz words, one-upmanship and ego joisting, The Apprentice does supply moments of comedy gold. My personal highlight remains Michael “I’m a good Jewish boy” Sophocles getting a verbal spanking from the former Spurs chairman. Sophocles’ first error, apart from having a ridiculous surname, was to go full retard on his CV, describing himself as “a good Jewish boy.” While Sugar took umbrage at the blatant pandering to his genetic make-up, Sophocles dug himself an even deeper hole by displaying a blissful ignorance of the Jewish methods of food preparation:

I’m conscious that I want people to read this while Ballbaggs is still in the house. With Sugar frothing with excitement at the prospect of firing him, I have to concede that time is of the essence, so on that note I will sign off. In the spirit of silliness and little more, I have put together a few spin-off suggestions for Apprentice alumni (see below) and left you with Raef ‘s best bits. Hate Baggs, love Raef. I can sense a T-Shirt campaign.

The Assprentice

1. Margaret Mounts Ford – Fed-up with the emotional trauma of the menopause, Margaret decides to recapture her youth with a bold page-3 style calendar, featuring images of her riding a range of Ford motorcars from yesteryear.

2. Hewer or lower – old school Saturday night entertainment where Nick wears a smoking jacket, pouts into a camera and asks game show contestants whether his next move will be to purse his lips higher in seductive approval, or lower in abhorrent disgust.

3. I’m a Jew, get me out of here! – Controversial race-led focus on the popular reality TV show. Michael “I’m a good Jewish boy” Sophocles joins the other camp members as the series begins its miserly occupation as the nation’s favourite watercooler topic. To make matters interesting, however, instead of saying “I’m a celebrity get me out of here” to end the horrors of a bush tucker trial, Sophocles has to drop his pants and prove his Jewish credentials.

Top ranking lists sustain a mild level of interest until you reach the top ten and the wobbly voiced narrator promises a host of stellar names after the break – cue The Beatles, The GodfatherTo Kill a Mockingbird or any other artistic usual suspect you care to mention. While it is often hard to discredit such music, film or literature, it becomes a little tiring when people assert greatness without thought, haplessly allocating quality on the basis of established standing, rather than studied appraisal.

For example, Film Four’s current top 100 list contains, respectively at places one, two and three: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes BackThe Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. All are decent films (The Godfather a clear standout in my eyes), but it is also worth noting that all were made more than 15 years ago and, of the top 10, only Gladiator was filmed this side of the millennium. Clearly, therefore, the only way to be truly venerated artistically is to wait around for a couple of decades and hope for the best, which seems at odds with the concept of ‘the greatest’ – surely if a film’s excellent, it is now just as much as it will be in twenty years time. Only if popular and/or influential legacy is a consideration would a time delay be necessary.

Get outta it you faaaarking slaaag!!!

My favourite film, however, is a mere pup, having been made as recently as 2001. Like all classically revered cinematic productions, it has at its helm an A-list director in the form of Ridley Scott, creator of the beautiful pant-shitter, Alien, the aforementioned Gladiator and the superlative Blade Runner. Not content with star quality behind the camera, the film also serves up a solid cast, featuring knight of the realm, Sir Anthony Hopkins; Hollywood’s go-to ginger, Julianne Moore; faux-Italian wiseguy, Ray Liotta; and the ever dependable Gary Oldman, a leftfield character actor and real-life brother to Mo Slater from Eastenders (who said that blogs can’t be valid educational tools). However while, say, Raging Bull and The Godfather are often regarded as the career zenith for the actors involved, my film of choice is to acting what naked exposure is to teaching, with much of the cast still reeling from their involvement in this widely perceived cinematic aberration. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the incomparable Hannibal.

Mason, would you like a popper?

Black pepper, sir?

For those unacquainted with Thomas Harris’ literary creation, Dr Hannibal Lecter VIII is a brilliant psychiatrist, hampered by his double-life as a cannibalistic serial killer. The beauty of the Lecter character is that despite his penchant for unorthodox dinner parties, the reader (and the audience) ends up rooting for him, on account of his ability to threaten unspeakable acts while behaving with the upmost courtesy. I doubt, for example, that you would ever see Leatherface extolling the culinary merits of pairing a human liver with some fava beans and a splash of Chianti.

Tom Hanks Forrest Gump. Charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded

The movie-watching public got their first glimpse of Lecter (played by Brian Cox) on screen in Michael Mann’s Red Dragon. However, despite positive critical reception and a resurgence following later Lecter films, the character failed to make a lasting impression. Where Brian Cox presented a subtle and studied Lecter, Anthony Hopkins went full retard in Jonathan Damme’s classy adaptation of Silence of the Lambs, revelling in the good doctor’s eccentricities and psychotic nature, and producing one of cinema’s most revered and oft-referenced villains.

Following the success (including several Oscars) of Silence, expectations ran high when Hannibal was released in 2001, however it didn’t take long for the critics to voice their disapproval; the Guardian decreeing it “an inflated bore of a movie”, while a brutal American reviewer dismissed the film as “a carnival freak show…we must give it credit for the courage of its depravity; if it proves nothing else, it proves that a man cutting off his own face and feeding it to the dogs doesn’t get the NC-17 rating for violence, nothing ever will.” Only Empire came closest to capturing the film’s true essence: “ranging from laughable to just plain boring, Hannibal is toothless to the end.”

As someone who has seen the film at least 100 times, I know better than to judge it as a serious motion picture. It must be treated as a comedy, and not only that, a comedy of the highest order. Just as ditsy females of my generation memorised Alicia Silverstone’s lines in Clueless, I can shamelessly reel off scene after scene of Hannibal dialogue, barely pausing for breath between each take. Not only that, I have managed to corrupt others in my quest for global Mason Verger (see further below) worshipping to the extent that we can now fully converse in Mason-speak, a kind of Klingon for people who prefer velvet-tongued cannibals to sexually frustrated space-travellers. For aspiring Mason enthusiasts, I have added a glossary to the end of this post.

I can list its most conspicuous aspects if that would help, jog the memory?

I know you won't believe me, boy, but I get a lot of pussy

The plot for Hannibal is so ridiculous, one can only assume that Harris adopted the early Bret Easton Ellis technique of getting loaded on class-As before putting pen to paper. Certainly, no sober mind could have conceived a successful novel around a horrifically disfigured and mentally disturbed cripple (Mason R Verger, Lecter’s last surviving victim), who spends his days lying in bed watching Sky News, all the while fantasising about feeding his one-time psychology lecturer (Lecter) to a pack of genetically engineered Sardinian hogs. While his retribution methods may be unorthodox, Lecter’s original offence was no less bizarre. After receiving a dinner invitation to Mason’s student digs, Lecter plied the young dandy with poppers and red wine before suggesting that he try peeling off his face and feeding it to the dogs. Never one to shy from a challenge, Mason duly obliged, later recounting, “it seemed like a good at the time”.

With his face now resembling a poorly made meat terrine, it is clear that Mason could have exercised greater judgment. From his opening line of “is that a Mustang I heard out there?” it becomes clear that Mason is comedy gold (skip to 30 seconds in):

While Mason rests-up in his four poster bed dreaming up obscure one liners (“nobody beats the Riz”), Hopkins’ Lecter minces about Florence, threatening to eat people’s wives and generally doing little to improve relations with our European comrades. No reason is given for Lecter’s decision to set-up in Italy, just a general acceptance that as an artistic lunatic, it’s the kind of place he’d go to get his kicks. This basic premise paves the way for some amusingly pointless art-house scenes, notably where Lecter attends an open-air opera yawn-a-thon armed with what appears to be an original extract from Dante Alighieri’s sonnets. At the end of the opera, it becomes clear that Neil Strauss and other PUAs could learn from the good Doctor, as he successfully sarges some Italian tail by handing her the sonnet text, and generally acting like a lecherous ponce.

As it transpires, there was method in Lecter’s behaviour, his flirting a deliberate attempt to unsettle Inspector Pazzi, the husband of the target of his affections. Having got wind of Mason’s $3 million dollar reward for capturing Lecter, Pazzi decides to have a go himself, apparently under the illusion that delivering one of the top-ten most wanted people in the world, and a cannibal to boot, would be a simple task. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go according to plan, with Pazzi last seen dangling from a noose in a Florence piazza with his bowls spewed out onto the sidewalk, like the last spoils of an offal convention. That’s how we say arriverderci in Hollywood, bitch.

You see it all comes to bear

Oink, oink

Back in the relatively real world, Mason’s plans for vengeance appear to be on track, as a highly charged exchange with Carlo, his Sardinian hog farmer, proves:

“Carlo: [answering the phone] Docto vino pronto.

Mason: CARLO??!!

Carlo: Mason…

Mason: Ciao bello, como estai??

Carlo: Errr…vell…vell…Am I…coming to see you?

Mason: Yes soon I hope. But first I need you to pack off the boys. Yes I know, the day you never thought would arrive has.

Carlo: Vell vell

Mason: Cordell will fax the Veterinary Service forms directly to Animal and Plant Health, but you need to get the veterinary affidavits from Sardinia. [Pause] So how are they??

Carlo: They are BIG, Mason, real BIG. Nearly two hundred and seventy kilos.

Mason: Oh, woooowwww.”

Alas YouTube appears to have pulled down some unauthorised Hannibal footage, which means I’m unable to share Mason’s child-like cry of “wooowwww”, and Carlo’s stereotypically-rugged Sardinian stubble. Suffice to say, the hogs themselves are capable beasts of which Mason should be rightly proud, and one begins to fear that Lecter’s chops might be unable to cope with the toughness of the hide, regardless of his cannibalistic pedigree.

MUUUM!! MEATLOAF!!

Amongst the bizarre shenanigans occurring in Florence and Sardinia, Julianne Moore’s wooden portrayal of Starling is allocated a sub-plot, a joist for superiority in the FBI between herself and her nemesis, Ray Liotta’s corrupt agent, Paul Krandler. Jealous of Starling’s fame following her pursuit of Lecter in Silence, the chauvinistic Krandler (a Will Ferrell patented buffoon who would probably list wanking and beer as his hobbies) belittles her wherever possible, before joining the Mason payroll. The skulduggery between Krandler and Mason results in the film’s finest hour, with Oldman’s Verger trussed up in a cardi, baseball hat and designer shades.

Enjoying the effects of the consumed appetiser

Upon its release, much was made of Hannibal’s violence, with the scene where Lecter dissects part of Krandler’s brain before braising it and feeding it back to his startled host, deemed gratuitous by all save for Heston Blumenthal, who avidly took notes before later proclaiming it ‘pioneering’. Having read Harris’ original novel, it is clear that Scott did in fact spare the viewer from some of the original’s darker moments. Mason himself, for example, is subject to a horrific ending in the book, with his younger sister, whom he molested as a child, shoving an electric eel down his throat. While this kind of retribution may appease hardened Daily Mail readers, Scott elected for a more sensible approach by having Mason feed to his own boars by long-suffering assistant, Cordell, following child-like goading from Lecter.

Thankfully YouTube have seen sense and preserved the clip showing Mason’s demise in all its bloody, dark-humoured glory (see below), and this seems a fitting place to draw matters to a close. In terms of iconic Mason phrases, this clip keeps them coming, starting with his unexpected deployment of the John Torode shopping list technique (see my early Masterchef post https://shanghaicowboy.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/masterchef-funny/) when describing his prized killer hogs (personal highlight being the pronunciation of ‘elongated canines’) to his attempted ultimatum to Cordell: ‘rather not? Or will not?’.

Remember, nobody beats the Riz.

Mason-speak for beginners

Useful – a substitute for ‘lunch’, as in ‘do you fancy being useful?’ which doubles up as a lunch invitation. Taken from Mason’s line to Cordell ‘you could be useful seeing about my lunch’. When delivering the dining invitation (‘do you fancy being useful?’), it is imperative that the first syllable of ‘useful’ is delivered in a high pitch.

Docto vino, pronto – a euro flavoured telephone greeting used by Carlo, Mason’s Sardinian pig farmer. The speaker needs to inhabit the character of a native Italian, elongating the ‘pronto’ to achieve the desired effect.

They are big, Mason, real big – another missive from Carlo, used to give Mason a basic understanding of the size of his bores. In everyday life, the phrase can be used to describe heffers in the street, or appealing waves. Example: ‘Hey dude, check out those sets. Yeh, man, they are big, Mason, real big.’

Cordell, Cordell! – a plea for help, as deployed by Mason when Cordell pushes him into the pig enclosure.

That’s not what I asked – a basic riff on ‘sorry, I didn’t quite catch that’.

Do you have faith? – a question asked of a beleaguered football fan, who’s team is receiving a royal humping. First deployed by Mason in his interrogation of Starling’s religious persuasion.

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