Imagine the scene. You’re skint. There’s nothing to do. You only have one friend, and you live together. And you hate him. The bastards have taken the telly away, and you’re incapable of completing a crossword. You’re bored. Dangerously bored.
Why is this so funny?
Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson’s ‘Culture’ episode of Bottom, is just this and it’s very funny. Two blokes with nothing to do, stuck at home with only each other. It shouldn’t be funny. Why do we love it when these characters are bored?
Desperation is funny. It should be tragic but with enough emotional distance between us and the desperate parties, we love it. Being so desperate for something to do that you try (with increasing frustration) to play pin the tail on the donkey, when you’re missing a pin, a tail, and a donkey in real life would be sad. But Mayall and Edmonson make it spectacular.
As Richie so eloquently puts it: ‘what a sad and tragic waste of a young attractive life.’ No one wants to think that one day they’ll be in their 30s, lonely, broke, and broken, and so at a loss for something to do that you pour custard down your pants in an endless cycle of competition with your only friend.
Comedy requires conflict. Boredom and frustration can quickly turn to anger, and with that violence. There’s no shortage of violence in any episode of Bottom and ‘Culture’ is no exception. I’m a pacifist and even I can completely understand how spending literally all night trying to teach someone how to play chess only for it to go tits up would ultimately lead to a fight where one party is rammed in the balls with the pointy end of an umbrella.
The high slapstick content (fridge door slammed into the face, TV smashed over the head, and eating a mould-covered yoghurt ‘started during the Gulf War’) could mislead you into thinking this is simply silly guff. But this episode in particular is so intelligently written and crafted with expertise. This shows Mayall and Edmonson are true wordsmiths, and this episode reflects their love of Samuel Beckett and calls on their history of starring in Waiting For Godot. There are moments of genuine warmth between these two, without which the audience simply would not believe these two would still be living together. Eddie says ‘That’s what I love about you Richie. You’re completely insane!’ How many other male friends do we see in sitcoms admit they love each other?
And then there’s the pathos. So much pathos. If you take the gags out of sitcoms, so many are profoundly sad. These two wail ‘We can’t go on like this!’, ‘this is unbearable!’, and ’it’s a shame we have to live in this area, it really is.’ If they weren’t such unpleasant bastards, you really would feel sorry for them. Instead, we laugh at them. And if you’re anything like me, you laugh at them a lot.
Anyone for a game of put a piece of Sellotape on the fridge?