When Channel Four’s Head of Comedy pointed out to Michael Grade that their new comedy series wasn’t really setting the BARB boxes alight, Grade replied: “If nobody is watching this, we should carry on doing it”. And he was – as usual – proved right, because Vic Reeves Big Night Out was one of the most influential comedy shows of all time, and cemented VIC REEVES himself as a bona fide comic icon.
Born as Jim Moir in Darlington, the former punk rocker (as was his mate Bob, who had a band with the brilliant name of Dog Dirt) had many jobs before arriving in London in the mid-1980s and running a comedy night in Deptford.
Not really knowing or caring about alternative comedy, Moir decided to do the whole show himself, bringing on his mates as the “acts”. The resulting show, which eventually became named Vic Reeves Big Night Out, became one of the hottest tickets in the capital.
Solicitor Bob Mortimer later joined the cast and a host of celebrities were regular visitors, including Jonathan Ross, who suggested putting the thing on the telly, with their cult status eventually leading to Alan Yentob and Michael Grade both attending the show one night.
Eventually they signed with Channel 4 and Big Night Out began in May 1990. At the time Reeves and Mortimer were virtual unknowns, with just a few appearances on Jonathan Ross’ shows and a quick turn on The Tube four years earlier the sub-total of their previous telly appearances. Bob hadn’t even left his job.
Big Night Out was certainly unlike anything else on telly, keeping much of the shambolic, home-made air of the live show, albeit 25 minutes instead of three hours.
Characters like The Stotts and Morrissey The Consumer Monkey made a virtue of their low budgets with gaffer-tape moustaches and papier mache heads. But it wasn’t all surrealism. There were proper jokes as well (“I put so much petrol in my car the other day, I couldn’t get in it!”) and some high quality light entertainment – or at least Bob dressed up as Rick Astley for the pensioners.
At this stage Vic was the main star with Bob turning up in a wig every few minutes as some character or other. Vic’s love of music also led to him releasing I Will Cure You, an utterly bizarre album from which spun off a number one hit.
Thanks to teatime repeats, every kid in Britain had seen Big Night Out and was crazy about it [speak for yourself - Ed.] Then, after two series, the pair went and signed for the BBC.
The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer ensued, an equally high quality show with the likes of Slade In Residence and Noel’s Addicts rating among the funniest sketches of the 1990s.
But it’s Big Night Out that became, as predicted by the NME, a cult of immense proportions.
THE DEFINING ROLE: Vic appearing on stage, brought on by the likes of Aled Jones (hawking burned shower caps now his voice had broken) or Isambard Kingdom Brunel, crooning the likes of I’m A Believer or Sheila Take A Bow, was a world away from the alternative comedy of the time. It’s about that time of night he liked to place a Caramac under a squirrel.