Saturday, October 27, 2007

OMFG! It's Nigel Verkoff's Birthday!!

In the late October of 2000, I first wrote an episode of The Youth Of Australia, an episode entitled Sunday, Day of Rest. Not (God, it's worrying how much The Young Ones have influenced me, it really is). The script can be read, mutilated but still recognizable. But in the curious osmotic flux that I had for two days creating the first episode has left me with a creation I can barely control.

Oh, things were so different then. Would this joke be too crude? Was it too intellectual? How 'real' was it supposed to be? The sillyness of the Goodies when the laws of reality can change entirely for a single gag? The insanity of McCallif? The not-quite-perfect world of Lano and Woodley? Should the add breaks go here?

Damian and I had worked out the main characters - a likeable dole bludger typical Australian bloke, a confused directionless teenager, the rich bitch love interest, and the total loser who thought he was a lady's man. We were both utterly, UTTERLY devastated when later that year, a failed English sitcom called Small Potatoes was shown with the exact same format. There was even a video shop, lots of alcohol, high school rejection and video game addiction. It honestly knocked us for six seeing this idea played out almost word for word on screen... and then it flopped. So I've had to alter it ever so slightly, to play with the stereotypes.

Of course, such thoughts didn't bother me at the time. But the fact was I had a rough idea to the dynamics of the show - Dave/Doug was ordinary, Andrew/Alex was the weirdo who lived at odds with Norman/Nigel the lothario. So for my first script I faced my terror, and had the main characters get their HSC results in the most rudimentary manner possible, in a sequence I can see was another Young One rip off... But the plot began to spiral. The best way to hit the audience with the import was to have the devil-may-care character fall apart. But then what? He'd come up with a half-hearted attempt to get even. Something so stupid it could never work, but logical enough for him to convince the others to help him.

You've failed the HSC. The solution: bribe your way to get your mark changed. How: well, he's a ladies' man.

And Nigel Verkoff finally stepped out of the shadows, where he had no doubt been fiddling with himself.

Nigel Verkoff comes from so many different sources. The idea is that of the guy who is useless at something, but utterly convinced he's brilliant at it - which I think might be from Inspector Gadget. In several stories, Nigel exists in his own little world, not really understanding what's going on. He's the hapless loser unlucky at love, so that's probably down to Mike Thecoolperson (who only really touched Verkoffian standards in Time, when, while a psychopathic woman tries to smother him with a pillow, shouts "That's it baby, treat me rough!"). He's also that type of person who is not very clever, talented or popular, but acts like he is, to the point he seems totally in denial. Another inspiration would be Blackadder. Nigel is not half as witty, cunning or even charming as Blackadder, but he has that same habit of telling people EXACTLY what he thinks of them, being rude to everyone and still somehow commanding loyalty.

Nigel Verkoff's name is a story all on its own. When I started High School... I was teased. A lot. I'm over it, of course, and at the time I could have either beat up my detractors or weilded Wildean wit... but I couldn't be arsed. One of the insulting names hurled at me was "Norman". Think of that name. Norman. It conjures up images. Normality, dullness, boredom. Someone in spectacles, balding, speaking in a monotone. How could anyone named Norman be in any way interesting? The idea of someone called Norman convinced he was Cassanova seemed ridiculously amusing. Then the concept of 'Nigel' turned up in schoolyard vernacular. Norman was boring, Nigel was pathetic. A loser. Someone who desperately wanted acceptance, and popularity, but that no one liked. To be humiliated or isolated from the crowd was to be 'Nigelated'. A mass seducer called Nigel? The most unromantic name ever? A name you HAVE to sneer just to pronounce?

Verkoff is harder to work out. I immediately worked out that Nigel was from a wealthy family, used to luxury and getting his own way. At the time, I think I just wanted a name that sounded rude, but wasn't. So, Verkoff is very obviously "Jerk Off" or maybe "Fuck Off", but it was also foreign. Interestingly foreign. You can imagine in casual conversation someone asking about his surname. It turns out Verkoff is the name of a character in a Russian play, the type of which you can google yourself. Finally, it would always have started with V, as a reference to Stephen Moffat's unseen character N.V. Gilespie. If you haven't seen that episode, it is about a mysterious supplier of food whose identity is not known. Then, Linda turns up for the interview claiming to be N.V. Gilespie, before Spike does the exact same thing. As they struggle to explain how two N.V. Gilespies can be in the same office at the same time, the real N.V. Gilsepsie turns up... it's funnier if you don't know who N.V. Gilspie actually turns out to be.

Plots began to create themselves. Nigel's truly demented confidence could land him in countless troubles - I immediately came up with a plot where a film crew arrives to use the house for a period doco-drama, and Nigel would immediately try to steal every scene he could, until finally the producer shot him. Not long after, I came up with a plot where Nigel invites a film crew to see him play up at work, and he is immediately fired. His complete lack of morality, coupled with the firm belief there was no problem he couldn't solve by turning up the charm, made him the most enjoyable character to write for. He's so fucking easy to just wind up and set off rolling. It cannot be a coincidence that the episodes I struggle to write are the ones Nigel is not in to a great degree. At the end of 2002, Damian and I had worked out a story arc for a third series of YOA, where Nigel's greed would literally tear the group apart. It would be a bit like The War Games, with Nigel driving away every recurring character, only for fate to leave him peniless, heartbroken and alone. Almost immediately we decided that the fourth series would feature Nigel moving in with Doctor Spoon and Chamber, a lurking presence in the background. Andrew, Dave, Katy, Eve... all could be chucked aside (and I've got the script where that happens, you know). But Nigel?

The final straw came during my HSC art project, where I drew four pages of comic strip about the YOA. It involves them at an art gallery musing over a strange piece of postmodern art, with Andrew giving an impromptu lecture on it before admitting he's talking bullshit. Dave suffers the lecture, while Nigel graffitis famous artworks with his texta.

Damian finally sketched what the characters looked like and my art teacher suggested the colours. And so, Nigel with his beehive-mullet, dark skin and searing yellow hair was created. His T-shirt with I AM WHAT WOMEN WANT, named after the vaguely memorable Mel Gibson film was created. Since then, I drew comic strips, I wrote annual stories, and then when I spoofed Phantasmagoria... the truth hit.

The villain of the story was an egomaniac initials N.V. Coupled with the confused impression I had at the time that the story was only worth listening to for Mark Gattis trying to outdo Henry Gordon Jago, I realized that if I wanted a spoof, the logical thing would be for an egomaniac called NV to steal every scene and hijack the plot... which he probably wrote himself! AND review it!

Nigel Verkoff finally took over my life. And while his evil and far less charismatic double Ben Chatham wreaks havoc on the rest of the universe, I realize that Nigel is about eight years old this week. And so, I repost a quizz I wrote once, where all the characters answered soul searching questions. And so, I just want to state the main differences between Nigel Verkoff and Ben Chatham

  1. When Nigel Verkoff is drunk, which is not often, he is fun to be around
  2. While he hates hard work and loves taking credit, Nigel is hands on and not afraid to fight for what he believes in
  3. Nigel despises bullying and cowardice, so if you disagree with him, he'll respect you for it, but think you are a complete fucking retard for not realizing how good he is
  4. In the unlikely event Nigel would ever have sex, he wouldn't slag them off the next morning
  5. Nigel, being Aboriginal and a very rich Japanese adoptee, does not believe in social classes of any sort, and simply guages people as being 'for him' and 'against him'
  6. Nigel is not sexually confused, and not a homophobe
  7. Nigel is very open-minded when it comes to religion, lifestyle choices, science fiction and life on Mars
  8. Nigel is annoying, whiney, contemptible, rude, selfish, unbelievable stupid, insensitive, maddening, unlikable, crude, sex-obsessed, egregious and a real wanker. He, however, is a comedy character, and not MEANT to be likable our feature presentation... 85 soul searching questions... NEXT

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