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Kapow, gling, gling!
Inside me, there's a tiny...
idiot, you know, running round falling over, bumping into walls.
I usually start laughing when I think about that.
Falls, pratfalls, buffoonery,
Pushing each other over and slapping each other.
I love the energy. It's real.
A dog with wind...
blowing itself into a fire and then exploding.
Welcome to The Story of Slapstick.
Tonight, we will explore and celebrate some of the best slapstick from the last 100 years.
Slapstick is still as popular today as it's ever been and it can be found in the most surprising places.
Like a very funny thing that's been around for a long time,
slapstick can be traced back through the years and has taken on many forms.
It's in Vic and Bob's cartoon capers.
It's in the anarchic alternative comedy of the '80s.
In fact, it's been around as long as TV itself.
And some of the funniest moments ever seen
are from the days before we had colour, or even sound.
For some reason, we just keep coming back to good old slapstick.
But why do we love it so much?
Well, let me take you back to when you were very, very young and life seemed much simpler.
The first things, when you're a kid, that you laugh at
are poo and falling over.
I've brought up kids and I've studied them to see what makes them laugh!
And that's it. So that's the first thing you start thinking is funny.
And it should carry on through the rest of your life.
Maybe forget the poo as being funny, but the slapstick should carry on.
Who wants ice-cream?
If someone said, "What do you think slapstick is?" You'd instantly think of clowns.
Heightened moments of violence
that just spring out of an absurd situation escalating.
So, where did this primal form of laughter begin?
Well, no one was telling gags in the Stone Age and early humour couldn't rely on punch lines for laughs.
Slapstick comedy gets you somewhere right in your gut.
It feels like a really primitive, ancient form of laughter.
The first mention of slapstick in the history books comes from Italy in the 16th century.
The Commedia dell'Arte was a popular form of improvisational theatre.
Slapstick comedy comes from the theatrical tradition
of physical comedy with an element of violence and the possibility of pain.
It's been around for so long and it's such a old form of comedy.
But it's changed over the generations.
It's difficult to define, really.
Well, Matthew, the dictionary says "slapstick is...
"comedy based on deliberately clumsy actions and humorously embarrassing events."
But hands up who can tell me where the term actually comes from?
To me, slapstick has always been the actual slap stick.
Ooh, very good, Innes, anyone else?
A slap stick is a bit of wood which is split so it makes a loud noise if you hit somebody with it.
By doing that, you let that bit come behind and then by stopping short,
the other one slapped. Simple.
Until the late 1800s, slapstick was performed in theatre and music halls,
but the Lumiere brothers from France were about to be the first to bring slapstick to the big screen.
This remarkable film was shown at a Parisian cafe in 1895,
in the first ever public screening of moving pictures.
The gardener is out with his hose and a young boy playing a prank
puts his foot on the hose, stops the water coming through the hose.
At that moment, modern slapstick was born.
Moving pictures became all the rage and slapstick comedy was perfect for this new medium.
I think very early on, anybody wanting to produce comedy for audiences, for screen audiences,
needed to produce something visually, because there was no sound.
So without sound, it had to become more expressionist or exaggerated.
America's newly established film industry embraced the form and, from 1910 to 1929,
hundreds of silent comedy shorts and features were released.
It was the golden age of slapstick and the stars of the genre are still known today.
It was the era of Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and of course, Buster Keaton.
During his career, Keaton starred in over 80 films.
An incredible acrobat, he performed his own stunts.
And, in 1928,
he astounded audiences with what has become one of the most iconic images
cinema has ever produced.
I think it's the single most dangerous stunt that's ever been performed by an artist, really.
So to not use a stuntman is an incredible thing.
You can watch it again and again and still marvel at it,
the perfection of the calculation involved
and the skill of his relaxed persona.
You can see when you look at the film
that there's barely two or three inches either side of the window.
And it needed to be weighted quite substantially,
which meant if it hit him, it would kill him.
Keaton's stunt was so impressive that it spawned many imitations.
Although not all were as impressive as the original.
They explained to us that the house front couldn't be lightweight, because if it was lightweight,
it would drift down and be uncontrollable.
So it had to be heavy and we had to stand in exactly the right place.
We had a Buster Keaton lookalike run on and take notes afterwards and then run off.
We thought that took the curse off it!
Buster Keaton may have risked life and limb for laughs
and Harold Lloyd thrilled audiences with his daredevil feats...
But the biggest star of the silent era was a little fella from London.
As well as great athleticism and timing,
Charlie Chaplin brought a level of sophistication to his performances that few could match.
His films were not only funny, they could also be poignant.
That is great art.
Tears and laughter are very close,
so it can bring the tears to your eyes,
but it also moves you to laugh.
In fact, you don't quite know which you should be doing.
It's a different thing to pure comedy.
I think it's a different form,
so it's sort of almost unfair to say, "It didn't make me laugh."
Because it's a different form, it's like a dance.
I think it is like ballet.
He would rehearse those kinds of sequences over and over again to get it exactly right.
So it looks to be spontaneous and free, maybe even improvised.
But very often, it may have been shot 30, 40 times
before he's happy with the sequence that we see on the screen.
He was such a perfectionist.
The universal appeal of slapstick, as pioneered by Keaton and Chaplin, amongst others,
has inspired performers ever since.
In the 1950s, that influence is visible in the films of Jacques Tati.
In the '70s, it inspired the Eric Sykes classic The Plank.
And today, it is evident in the hugely successful escapades of Mr Bean.
-People love that, people love Mr Bean.
Of course it also transcends language.
He might not say much, but that may just be the key to his appeal.
As one of the most successful British comedy characters,
Mr Bean has sold to over 200 countries around the world.
I was on a plane and they played an episode of Mr Bean.
And you could hear the whole laughter
sweeping backwards and forwards across the plane, you know.
And I had this image of this plane flying through the clouds
and the laughter kind of echoing out of it, you know, into the sky!
But let's face it, Mr Bean is not everyone's cup of tea.
I do find him creepy.
Why can't he speak words?
You know. Rather than this kind of "arrarraaaa".
It's like he's some strange...
creature from another planet or something.
The infuriating side of Mr Bean's character inspired Alexei Sayle's Bean parody, Mr Aubergine.
Aubergine...bean, yeah? Get it?
Mr Aubergine was sort of in the real world and so it was kind of playing with that.
If somebody was really behaving like that in the real world, just how obnoxious would they be, you know?!
Just how awful?!
We can't get enough of silent comedy now.
But back in the old scratchy black-and-white days,
it looked like the writing was on the wall for slapstick.
The arrival of sound proved to be a bit of a banana skin for many of the biggest stars of that time.
When Chaplin started talking, no-one really liked his voice.
So that was the end of him.
The careers of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd all went into decline.
Sound changed the movies and it was now all about the words.
Slapstick was hanging on for dear life.
It looked like slapstick comedy was finished.
But two unlikely saviours would come to its rescue.
When Stanley Jefferson was introduced to Norvell Hardy,
the world's most popular double act was formed.
-Hey! Got a match?
-Sorry, I don't smoke!
By the time they made their first talkie, they had appeared together in over 30 silent films.
And unlike their counterparts, their voices seemed to fit their characters.
I suppose you've got to have the right voice and Laurel and Hardy did.
I mean, they didn't say a lot, but Stan had his, "Woo woooo woo."
I never thought of that.
# Shine on, shine on, harvest moon
# Up in the sky... #
The other good thing that worked very well with Laurel and Hardy films is,
they stick to broadly visual comedy.
They don't leap into the new medium and think, "It all has to be sound now, let's do lots of sound gags."
They bring in things, but they still use those extended sequences of visual comedy.
So if you look at the first few sound shorts of Laurel and Hardy, it's still very much silent comedy.
Laurel and Hardy are brilliant.
I mean, they're unique.
And they had this great knack for visual comedy, because they look funny to start with.
And Stan Laurel, who wrote the scripts, was very inventive
in finding ways to use physicality in the comedy.
What I really love about it, which I'd forgotten, is the fact that it is so deliberate.
So Stan Laurel will open his trousers up and allow someone to pour custard in.
It's not like there's any defence, they just go along with it!
And that's what makes it so hilarious.
Audiences identified with the characters of Stan and Ollie.
They flocked to see the latest Laurel and Hardy movies in a time of real hardship.
At the height of their popularity, the world was in the grip of the Great Depression.
This pair of dunderheads and their simple slapstick routines
provided the perfect escape from the complications of everyday life.
Their memory of the depression in the Thirties
is never too far away from a Laurel and Hardy film.
There's that kind of element when a whole society
and a whole nation, a whole culture was struggling to survive.
And I think that's why Laurel and Hardy's so potent, because usually they are penniless,
they've got some menial job that they're performing.
They're just trying to make a buck, kind of thing. So we've instantly got sympathy for them.
Slapstick, really good slapstick, is literally about survival.
It's about, "He got hit by a plank and it didn't kill him."
Slapstick struck a chord with audiences the world over,
but why does the sight of someone coming a cropper always make us chuckle?
Well, Sigmund Freud, who, as we all know, liked a laugh, came up with a few answers.
Freud said that we have this desire to witness cruelty, or to in fact actually be cruel ourselves.
We have this vicarious experience through slapstick comedy.
We do like to watch people suffering, even if it's pretend suffering.
It's painful for that person, but not for you.
It's fun, because it's not happening to you.
Maybe it's a reaction that it's something you shouldn't laugh at,
so it's kind of a nervous reaction to something that's really quite bad.
He fleeth, as it were a shadow, and never continueth...
People feel constrained to laugh at funerals or in church and situations like that.
Pleased Almighty God...
Take unto himself the soul of this child here departed.
We therefore commit his body to the ground.
If somebody slips on a banana skin and falls on their bum, it's comedy.
If they slip on a banana skin and fall down a manhole and die, it's tragedy.
It's a way of releasing our anxiety about death.
In a way, you can reduce all of slapstick to that basic joke, "Ha ha, it's not me."
The world loves slapstick and we can't let the Yanks take all the credit.
Slapstick in good old Blighty was thriving.
The biggest star of the day was Norman Wisdom
and he brought the pratfall to the big screen in Britain.
But the 1950s would see many more British stars become household names.
The reason was simple - telly.
Much of television was broadcast live.
Comedians like Charlie Drake discovered that performing live slapstick
could be a very dangerous business.
The one time that he really hurt himself on live television, he was pulled through a bookcase.
And he went into it head first, and the shelf was a breakaway shelf.
Unfortunately, it was loaded with books, which made it very heavy.
It smacked him on the head, and he passed out unconscious, on live television.
So is the stricken star given immediate medical attention?
Oh, no. They picked him up and tossed him out of the window.
Those were the days.
Another one I marvel at if I ever catch him on anything, it's very rare you do,
because it's so strange, Max Wall.
Like many of the early television entertainers, Max Wall started his career in the music halls.
His most memorable comic creation was Professor Wallofski.
"Good evening." That was all he said.
How did this exist as a thing that he could just come out and do?
But everyone just accepted it.
He would come out in those tights and that little frock coat
and just do strange little movements like a duck, paddling around on the stage.
It may seem bizarre today, but this act was so popular
that Max was still strutting his stuff well into his 70s and inspired many imitators.
Poor Michael Jackson wasn't a comedy figure at all,
but watching him, I am reminded of Max Wall.
It wasn't known as the Moonwalk in those days. Max Wall used to do it.
It was absolutely hysterically funny, I loved it. I would gladly watch it now.
But to think then, it was just accepted, then he'd leave. "Thank you very much, Max Wall."
But by far the most popular slapsticker on television in the '50s
was someone you've probably never heard of.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you Mr Pastry.
Mr Pastry prepares to climb aboard, but not if his skis can help it.
Mr pastry was very big.
It was an event, when Mr Pastry was on the show.
Slapstick routines, falling over...
business with chairs.
He could spin out 20 minutes with a deck chair.
The character Mr Pastry was created by Richard Hearne.
He was so popular that Hearne was offered the part of Dr Who.
He blew it by insisting he play the part in the character of Mr Pastry.
He may have regretted this later as his career faded into the obscurity of kids' TV.
But now he's ready to start again.
There was a time in the '50s when it seemed slapstick could only be found in cartoons and on children's TV.
Character-based comedy was in and slapstick was seen as juvenile and unsophisticated.
That's the thing about slapstick.
Some misguided fools dismiss it as just for kids.
I think it's quite a negative response that most people have to the word slapstick.
I think the common perception is that it's simplistic, that it's not intelligent.
I expect there are people who think slapstick is stupid.
"It's stupid, daft humour.
-"Anyone can do it."
-The audience tend to see slapstick as, "That's just people messing about,"
and verbal comedy was quite clever.
Sometimes people say that slapstick is childish.
Yeah, it's basic, it's simple, it's people falling over and getting hurt.
But it's got to be funny, as well.
It's childLIKE, which is a very different thing.
There's a childish joy in the execution of it and in that childish joy, you see the character revealed.
What do you think you're doing?
Child one will hit child two and then child two will hit child one.
Then the bigger one will chase the smaller one and the smaller one will try to find somewhere to hide.
Then you grow up and you learn self-control and not to do that,
but I think that's still your instinctive response, still what you want to do.
Or is it just me?
By the end of the '50s, slapstick on television was in the doldrums.
But the next generation of comedians will prove
that visual comedy was anything but childish.
It all started in the most unexpected place -
-Help me get this piano back to England.
-It's too heavy.
I have an idea, we'll saw the legs off.
There. I've sawn off all four legs.
That's strange, the first time I've known of a piano with four legs.
Hey, I keep falling down!
The Goons were Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe.
They pioneered the use of surreal humour, puns, catchphrases and an array of bizarre sound effects
to convey a world where slapstick could exist, even when it was unseen.
It was radio slapstick, and it was so new at its time that a different generation, my parents' generation,
were completely left cold by it.
They pioneered new areas for comedy.
-Constable, how would you like to join the River Police?
-I'd like that very much.
-Thank you very much.
-The radio lets your imagination run riot
and everyone got their own particular picture of what's going on.
You hear the sound effect - an almighty splash - and Harry Secombe is pulled out, spluttering, to say,
"That water was taller than me."
And then the voice saying, "Well, it's older, that's why!"
Wait! What fools we are. How are we going to get the raft across? The river's full of water.
Well, it's quite simple, build a bridge and carry it across.
The Goons, I mean, they prove, on radio, that the pen is mightier than the budget.
The surreal slapstick invented by The Goons
was to prove hugely inspirational to a new generation of comedians.
Slapstick may never have been considered the most intellectual form of entertainment,
but its new champions were about to graduate from the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Monty Python, Monty Python, Monty Python.
Monty Python's Flying Circus first appeared on our televisions in October 1969.
For those of you living under a rock, it was a hugely influential sketch show.
Though unlike anything that had been seen before, the Pythons...
They say "Python," don't they? "Python."
Yes, the Pythons were very well aware of the slapstick tradition.
Uh-oh, there it is. All over his face.
They were playing in fresh virgin snow.
It was the dawn of an age, they were doing something before anyone else had done it,
they really knew their comedy history and there's a great love of comedy there, as well.
And I love the slapstick stuff in it.
Surely nothing can go wrong here.
Uh-oh, here's the PM coming back for more.
And he certainly gets it.
This kind of surreal, quite cerebral comedy, with this amazing slapstick.
There's a misconception, really, that slapstick comedy is a basic crude form of visual humour.
What Monty Python bring to visual comedy is sharp intellect and surrealism.
And that elevates the humour, and I think that's why, 40 years on,
people are still looking back at a show like Monty Python, because it has that level of sophistication.
The earliest forms of jape were divisible
into the two categories into which I now intend to divide them.
And if there is a gag, like a banana skin gag or a plank gag or a custard pie gag,
there are always ways that the artist, if they are interesting enough, will want to top it.
HE CLEARS HIS THROAT
Monty Python went global with their clever take on slapstick.
They even did it live, and sold out the Hollywood Bowl.
It had all the cosy slapstick ingredients, taking the chair away,
the custard pies, even the plank,
but it was the way it was delivered, in this kind of donnish, academic way.
A certain amount of risibility is to be obtained from the surprise.
The Pythons' irreverent humour was very much in keeping with the spirit of the times.
Short skirts, protests and sticking it to the man were in,
but slapstick comedy had been doing that sort of thing for years, except maybe for the short skirts bit.
It's the rebellious thing of comedy.
You're always anti-authoritarian, so it's always got to be the headmaster, the chief constable,
the policeman, of course. It's an absolute comedy basic.
The authority figure, they're gonna get hit.
The basic thing is always the same.
If somebody is too big for their boots, they get their comeuppance,
and I think that's a mark of the quality of good comedy through the ages.
It's hugely moral, so it's a very reassuring universe,
where the little guy wins, the little guy beats the big guy.
The underdog wins, and justice is done.
It's all about the maximum dive from...
pride to humiliation, isn't it?
That's what makes a joke funnier.
The comic is basically saying, "I am you, wouldn't you like to kick a cop up the backside in real life?"
And you never would, but they do.
Monty Python kick-started a new type of slapstick in the '70s and soon everyone was at it.
Whether it was in sitcom, sketch shows, entertainment
or game shows, slapstick was once again the height of fashion.
The Pythons' old college mates, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor were no exception.
# Goodies... #
-They were to band together and create a comedy trio unlike any other.
-Goodie, Goodie, Goodie!
And they were good...very good.
They were The Goodies, and they would do anything, anywhere, anytime.
And they had a little bit of something for everyone.
People would sit down, literally all the generations together, and watch the show.
There would be parents and kids and even granny would come down and enjoy a bit of it, too.
All this was served up in a slightly surreal and very silly format.
Watching The Goodies, I just remember trying to understand what was going on.
I suppose it is a sort of shamelessness about the artifice of slapstick.
They were very much in the tradition and they really admired the old greats.
They had huge budgets and the stunts they performed were quite impressive really, for their time.
I think, more than anybody else, The Goodies, for what was more than 10 years,
were producing prime-time television that included this visual, slapstick comedy.
They're hugely underrated today and undervalued for their work.
The stigma that the show is still saddled with is that people think, "That was a kids' show."
People often say that John Cleese dismissed The Goodies as a kids' programme.
He did in one episode where he appeared and shouted "Kids' programme" at us.
But we wrote that...
And we filmed him doing it.
So it wasn't necessarily his own view.
That is something adults and children can share.
You know, chases and people smacking each other over the head, you can both laugh.
Slapstick was perfect family entertainment
and the most-watched double act of the '70s even became a bit partial.
# Bring me sunshine in your smile... #
Morecambe and Wise, beloved of grannies and kiddies alike,
thrilled millions with a slapstick routine that remains a firm favourite.
MUSIC: "The Stripper" by David Rose
That was a masterpiece of comedy.
A combination of the silent films and modern comedy.
Eric Morecambe, the way he moved his body was funny and he knew that.
He knew how to do it and he knew how to use it as a flourish on the end of jokes.
And it was impeccable timing, slapstick at its very best.
I defy anybody, whatever their favourite comic is, not to laugh at that scene.
This was the golden age of television slapstick.
Audiences lapped it up.
But when it came to pure slapstick, Frank Spencer was out on his own.
Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em featured some of the biggest and most dangerous antics
ever seen in British comedy.
Like Buster Keaton before him, Michael Crawford insisted on performing his own stunts.
-'The fact that he actually did all those things himself...'
-I ain't got no change!
..I loved it because you don't see that kind of peril and he would get himself into such scrapes.
Some great moments - his car ended up on a cliff edge, teetering, and he was screaming.
Just hold on to my legs.
Hold my feet.
-It's all right, Frank, I've got you...
What shall I do?!
Such an iconic, slapstick role, he was quite clearly very talented.
It's a legendary character now.
I remember being so frightened always of what he would get himself into
and fearful of how angry he made people get about him, "Mr Spencer!"
I used to feel so sorry for him and get upset because he just made it worse. Maybe that was the point.
A saviour who is Christ...
Not that big one!
Michael Crawford seemed to take slapstick to new heights.
But by the end of the '70s, its popularity seemed to dwindle.
It could still be found in the increasingly saucy shenanigans of Benny Hill
but there was a sense that change was needed.
Slapstick seemed to have stalled,
but the '80s would see a new breed of alternative comedian rise up
to give it a boot up the backside.
When the alternative comedy movement started, we were filling this enormous vacuum
and so we were defining an art form, really.
We were inventing modern comedy and so you have a tremendous freedom.
In the same way that the Pythons' surreal brand of humour
was a reaction to what was happening in society during the '60s and '70s,
the alternative comedy of the '80s was a product of its time.
Britain was a politically-divided country and was experiencing the sort of changes
that would have repercussions for years.
# I fought the law but the law won
# I fought the law but the law won
# Well, I fought the law and the... #
One egg hit Mrs Thatcher squarely on the chest.
More eggs and also tomatoes, ice-cream and butter rained down on her entourage.
We had a great enemy, Margaret Thatcher...
..amazingly powerful causes to identify with,
very tangible causes,
so it was a gift, really, for creative expression.
This new comedy may have been called alternative,
but these young guns realised the truly anarchic appeal of slapstick.
-Missed me, virgin!
-I'm not a virgin. I am not a virgin!
Hey, I just heard something amazingly heavy on the radio.
The slapstick in the Young Ones reflected a time, it was in a dirty flat...
you know, student life, expressing themselves through anger and physicality
and just a lot of hostility and shouting...
..and just anarchy.
At the heart of the Young Ones
was the extreme, often brutal, physical slapstick of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson.
They were fearless, really. There was very little health and safety.
The set was always catching fire. They were pretty lax about it.
That scene when he goes down the stairs, he just did that. He's not on a wire or anything.
It was pretty dangerous, really.
Certainly, Rik, he got cuts and bruises and stuff quite frequently.
Pay attention because we'll be back after this break.
At the time, some were appalled at the violence in the show.
But, for fans of slapstick, it wasn't anything new.
So, what's the difference between this sort of violence and the violence of say, a Tarantino?
You know they recover immediately.
They get bashed on the head
with a lump of rock and they get up straight away.
So we know it is safe, absolutely safe.
It's almost like you can watch that violence and you know it's not a film
where people are getting their heads blown off, which might be unsavoury.
We have to know its artificial, "It's safe to laugh at this."
Even mindless violence seems boring today.
Unless it's real blood or something like that, then it soon changes.
It has got its limits.
Those limits were pressed to the max when Rik and Ade created Bottom.
In this series, a character wouldn't just get hit with a frying-pan, they might get hit with a frying pan,
thrown through a wall, chucked down the stairs and set on fire.
I loved the violence in it, that's why I watched and that's why I suppose millions of people did watch,
to see that fabulous violence that was going on in there.
They just weren't censored. They were boys. It is very boys-y.
Eddie, you've killed him.
But is it possible to take slapstick violence too far?
I found Bottom a little bit too much.
It was all just frying pans on heads
and I found it a bit tiring after a bit.
A bit too relentless.
-Stop messing about.
-'It was too shouty for me. I did actually find it abrasive.'
I always had this idea that they'd be doing that stuff when they were 90.
Eventually, those young upstarts would be recognised by the mainstream
and they've even got the gongs to prove it.
I won an International Emmy and the first I knew about it was when my mother-in-law rang me up.
It was on Channel 4 News, footage of Benny Hill picking up my award in New York.
I think they thought...
maybe they thought we all lived together in a big house, Me, Benny, Ben Elton,
Rik, Bruce Forsyth and he'd give it to me when I saw him at breakfast!
By the end of the '80s, just about everyone was ready for a change.
There was a new spirit of optimism in Britain and that was reflected in every aspect of culture and society.
Britpop had arrived, football came home and people were paying a fortune for pickled sheep.
# Dizzy! I'm so dizzy My head is spinning... #
In comedy, people were looking for an alternative to the... alternative.
What they got was colourful, joyous and really rather silly.
And guess what the hippest, newest form of comedy was. Go on, guess.
Vic and Bob were the new cool kids on the comedy block.
And they were slapstick to the core.
I think Bob and me just both loved slapstick and when we came together
it was the love of slapstick that we wanted to put on television.
We took slapstick to new levels.
Suddenly, there was an eruption of silliness and slapstick
and hitting each other and things falling on people's heads
and everything. I thought that was joyful.
What I love about Vic and Bob is just the silliness.
It is the silliness that provides the escapism for people.
Vic and Bob have taken comedy inside out, really.
They go about it with such gusto and such lack of reason,
you've just got to giggle.
Are you brutally pounding that man in the face with an iron pan?
-Are you aware that such behaviour can lead to permanent damage?
-Well, it can. Just look at the state of that pan. It's ruined.
Their violence was cartoon-like and there would be that brilliant sound effect that just went on and on,
just for that slightly too long thing when it almost becomes not funny
then it starts to be funny again because it's not stopping.
Just unjustified violence.
There's no reason for it. It was almost like we enjoy doing it.
When WE hit each other, we do actually hit each other and we have got the scars to prove it.
Bob has especially got beaten quite badly and knocked himself out and what not.
That, again, that is like the Laurel and Hardy way of doing slapstick.
You allow yourself to be battered.
While it seemed we had never seen anything like Vic and Bob,
in their comedy, you can see the influence of a century of slapstick.
In the mix is a dollop of Laurel and Hardy,
a pinch of Tati,
a generous helping of Morecambe and Wise
and a smattering of Bottom, if you'll pardon the expression.
There's even a dash of Max Wall.
Yummy. All stirred together in, what else?
A massive frying-pan.
We like to leave ragged edges.
To see my hand just... We could've done it again
and I think the director probably would've said, "I saw you caught your hand there, do it again,"
and we would've said, "No, just leave that in." Because that's probably better than the joke itself.
Vic, please. Oh, Vic, I admit it, I am incontinent.
What have I done?
It almost makes you, the viewer, with us on it, you know.
I think that's one of the key things about slapstick, you have to be in with the attacker.
You've got to be matey with them.
And 20 years after they first started out, Vic and Bob are still at it.
-I see you've got a frying pan, Vic?
The celebrity showbiz quiz. You're going to hit me with it, aren't you?
-Anyway, well we look forward to that, won't we, ladies and gentlemen?
In the last series of Shooting Stars, I stuck a pump up Bob's jacksie and pumped his head up.
We were trying to be as slapstick as we possibly could. We took it to the extremes.
The pure slapstick of Reeves and Mortimer rekindled our love of buffoonery.
But slapstick was a fickle mistress.
As the new millennium dawned, there were many more admirers lining up.
She got Lee Evans all hot and bothered...
What Lee brings to it is... this huge physical presence.
The way he uses his body, he's very unusual and it's very extreme, as well.
But it wasn't just men who courted her charms. The Absolutely Fabulous Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley
provided some hot girly action.
What the hell?
-Pig. What do you want?
-'Somebody being drunk is funny.'
Joanna Lumley does drunk, well, sublimely well.
They just went for it, giving full rein to the extremities of a character,
which is what slapstick is and Ab Fab embraced it.
But this temptress was fooling around with all new comics on the scene
and, with scant regard for how long a metaphor could be stretched,
Simon Pegg also fell head over heels for her.
I think Simon Pegg is one of the all time,
maybe not all time, yeah, no, no, the all-time greats.
He's really good. Really good at falling over
and really good at being smacked.
As one slapstick century ended and another began, perhaps the most twisted twist in the slapstick story
came from the small village of Royston Vasey.
-Er, passable. Rather long.
-Well, quicker to cycle, I say.
The League of Gentlemen, with their love of physical comedy
and British horror, took us to a somewhat darker side of slapstick.
Now then, lad...
We'd created Dr Chinnery, who was such a slapstick kind of character
cos he's a well-meaning vet...
who kills every animal that he treats.
I fear a serious bowel disorder has been precipitated.
I'm going to have to perform...
a rectal examination.
Ooh! Ooh, you brave little soldier!
There, there we go.
-Poor little Batley.
-I think you'll find he's a little more robust than you give him credit for.
Slapstick's not just Laurel and Hardy and a routine where their hats fall off.
But I love that equally, but it does bleed into a lot of types of comedy.
Slapstick in the 21st century was in demand, but becoming more and more difficult to pull off.
It was expensive and it could be dangerous.
The daring stunts of Keaton, Michael Crawford and even Rik and Ade were long gone.
Health and safety were the new double act in town.
Now it's like...
crews have to wear fluorescent jackets and all that kind of stuff.
There was none of that then.
I suppose we shall just have to cook our own supper.
The bit where Rik lights a stove and then it blows up and it goes into slow motion...
It looks arty, but in fact that's only because there was too much explosive in the cooker
and there's only those five or six frames of tape before the camera caught fire.
It just wouldn't happen now.
For any little trip or fall you have to do, nowadays with health and safety...
We did a reunion show of The Goodies and they found one of the three-seater bicycles,
which we hated.
I thought, "Oh, they're going to make us ride it."
But they said, "Whatever you do, don't get on the bike cos we can't insure you."
I said, "Well, that's 30 years too late, isn't it?"
When it came to dangerous stunts, Nanny said no.
But people still crave those big slapstick laughs.
So, who would fill the void at the start of the new millennium?
Reality was the next big thing and the new slapstick star was Joe Public.
People were laughing at their own madcap antics.
Being real made the slapstick even funnier.
I've seen one on YouTube where a woman comes with a birthday cake, gets out of the car and then,
for the character involved in the centre of it, it's life and death.
She's not worried about the cake.
She's worried about breaking her neck.
-Behind the camera, Mum!
That's where the laughs are, I think. It's in that human reaction.
I think that's always what it's about.
-The rings, please.
-But some of it wasn't quite what it seemed.
Oh God. No!
There's one with the bride falling into the water. I just think it's hilarious.
I've laughed every time I've seen it.
This clip fooled millions of people, but turned out to be fake.
So, slapstick has almost come full circle and reminiscent of those first public screenings
by the Lumiere brothers, today's pioneers of slapstick are exploring new frontiers.
Some of it looks really painful.
You think, "God, I think they've really hurt their heads."
I think it's maybe seeing the situation and knowing instantly, "Oh God, I can see what's coming."
You just don't quite know when.
We still love to see people take a tumble, as millions of people prove
every Saturday night by tuning in to see You've Been Framed, Hole In The Wall and Total Wipeout.
Total Wipeout is slapstick.
That's a big, big slapstick show. We all still love and adore slapstick.
It's just kind of,
it's moved out of scripted comedy slightly and into other areas.
On your average Saturday night, you've got Hole In The Wall.
You can certainly get your fill of it on a Saturday night.
As we've seen throughout the story of slapstick, it has a way of reinventing itself.
Today, a whole new generation are finding new ways of performing the same old gags.
Yeah...working it... 'Oh, look.
'It's me. Oh, isn't that marvellous?'
It's all about the recovery, isn't it?
It's kind of strange. Everything's coming round again and going back to slapstick.
You have to make it silly and you have to make it big and fun.
I've seen We Are Klang and I know people say it's kind of The Goodies.
Or it's the new Rik Mayall playing The Goodies.
-You never thought anyone would say that.
-Pru, my love?
Mmm? What's that, Miranda? I can't hear you because I'm busy serving a customer.
"No, it's all right, my darling. I'll do it myself," said the little red hen.
Careful, Miranda. You'll hurt yourself.
-No, don't worry. I'm fine.
I think I must have slipped on one of your rogue pieces of beetroot.
Could I get another plate? This one's got something on it.
We prefer customers not to raise their voice when making complaints.
-Who's raising his voice?
-I won't be bothered.
-I don't know what you're talking about.
-You need to calm down.
-This is absurd.
-It's kicking off, Pru.
Always for me, some of the funniest stuff that we get to do in the show,
is the slapstick and the visual comedy. I just love that.
Again, it's that laughter, that primitive thing that you get.
I think the comedy today is fantastic.
I don't have this longing for the past and thinking, "Weren't the silent days the best and fantastic?"
I just think it's extraordinary that what happened then and extraordinary
how that informs what's still happening today in comedy.
Slapstick may go in and out of fashion, but it will never go away.
We might have to look a little bit harder for it, but as long as it's in our nature to laugh
at the misfortunes of fellow human beings, slapstick will survive.
The humour of it, I suppose, is that underneath it all, we're the subject of these basic laws of gravity.
If you remove the feet from under somebody, they'll fall over.
Things like that.
You know, custard will stick.
I think it's really, really, really funny.
It always, always makes me laugh.
I think, I think I'm not alone.
I think there's a lot of people out there who also think it's hilarious.
They've just been driven underground.
It's just goes right to the heart, the very core of every human being.
You can't stop us doing slapstick, we love it.
So...it's in everything we do. You do get brutalised and it is knackering.
But it's like doing some Olympic challenge.
It's worth it in the long run.
So, there you have it. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, male or female
or where in the world you come from.
Slapstick comedy is universal.
It transcends language and culture.
But most important of all, it's, well, you know, funny.
-Ha, ha, ha...
-# One, one, two, three, four... #
# Nothing's gonna bring me down...
# ..and tyres on my car,
# I've got most of the means and scripts for the scenes
# I'm out and about so I'm in with a shout
# I've got a fair bit of Jack but better than that
# Food in my belly and a license for my telly
# And nothing's gonna bring me down
# Nothing's going to bring me down
# Best of all, I've got my baby
# Oh, best of all I've got my baby... #
-In the drier!
-No, I won't!
-In the drier!
# Nothing's going to bring me down
# She's mighty fine and she's all mine
# No, nothing's gonna bring me down. #
-Ha, ha, ha...
-That is slapstick.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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