And then we were watching an episode of Countdown from March 1986, which seemed to be someone else's bill entirely and the waiter had made a mix up at reception.
What's odd is that this would have been an episode of Countdown I would have wanted to watch... had I known it had existed. Simply put, it was during the Ben Elton/Rik Mayall tour of Australia to promote the screening of The Young Ones, their charity album with Cliff Richard (not the worse music single ever - see Doctor in Distress if you dare - but it would work better without the singing and just the funny remarks) and spread hype about the new show Filthy Rich & Catflap. So, Ben and Rik host Countdown. If I knew it existed, I would have demanded the ABC show it again.
But... I didn't. I was only one year old at the time and my parents were busy looking after me by giving me a cat as a babysitter. Seriously. Went on for four years being looked after by a cat. And I only started to notice the outside world when I was able to watch VHS tapes of the 1988 Bicentennial ABC Comedy Hour, with an unbeatable collection of shows including
- Blake's 7 series 4 (oh how we laughed)
- Doctor Who And The Krotons (how else do you celebrate the anniversary?)
- The D-Generation (nuff said)
- The Young Ones
- While You're Down There (Glenn Robins and Gina Riley beging the slow decline and fall to Kath and Kim)
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (so the world blew up the day after the Young Ones died? No wonder I grew up so depressed)
- Alas Smith & Jones
- Blott on the Landscape
And they're shit!
My dad's tolerance for the duo was ground out of him by my cousin David who played The Young Ones repeatedly for six months. I still can see the spark and the satire, but there was none of it here. They sit in a very obvious fake 'hotel room' with Rik playing a freakish mutant of Rick Pratt and Richie Rich, a wildly enthusiastic and unfunny childish moron wearing a red beret and grey shirt, together with The Underpants which would at various points out act both Rik and Ben. Ben for his part seems happy enough hoping whatever audience exists will mistake him for Christopher Ryan's Mike the Cool Person and after addressing Elton by his full name, Rik forgets all about his identity.
I can justify a lot of humor, but this isn't funny! It's not even unfunny! As the duo generally make it clear they hate Australia and everyone in it, I wonder if they're joking. This sort of humor wouldn't be found in a Channel 9 sketch show - assuming you can call two grown men dancing and saying "We are sexy, oh so sexy!" five hundred times in lieu of conversation. Seriously, is that funny? They just gurn at camera and say the words "I am so, so sexy!" over and over again.
I cringed and realized a) I wasn't taping this bit of TV history and b) thank fucking Christ for that.
Rik, who seemed to be thinking he was in Play School and had taken a bet not to tell a single funny joke, runs around in his underpants demanding the lavatory. Ben bluntly tells him such lavatorial concerns are banned on Australian TV (what?!) and they have an "intellectual" discussion about Richard Moorecroft sitting behind a desk to hide the fact he's busting for a piss. Rik then announces he has wet the hotel bed he is lying in.
Dear God, the voiceover guy who identifies each music clip is funnier! At least he's telling jokes!
There are brief sparks of interest (since, rubbish as they are, the Pom Anarchists are more interesting than the music on display). For a start, one clip has the two of them dozing off (and by now I think the entire population could work out funnier routines about heat stroke, jet lag and foreigner gags) and being startled awake realizing they've got a show to host and in a panic try to identify the song just shown as "Stupid Echo" with "Living in a Drum" - actually Pseudo Echo with Living in Dream, and not a bad song either - but the humor inherent in Rik Mayall of playing someone completely unsuited for his job is swallowed up, as the clip is shorter than it takes to read this paragraph.
The next one has an interesting premise: Rik wants to smash up the hotel room like all good rock stars do, but is too weak and pathetic to do so. Ben suggests calling room service and Rik screams "ROOM SERVICE!" at the top of his voice (har fucking har) and two guys enter. Rik repeats his destructive desires only for the unimpressed guys to reveal they are members of Madness (and de facto Young One cast members...) and we're left with an amusing scene as the two comedians struggle to remember who the duo are without embarrassing them, but this is abandoned in about five seconds and we cut to Madness in their dying days of "Lift Music So Banal You'd Rather Take The Stairs" tunes...
Finally, Rik leaves the room for five bloody seconds and Ben does his Ben Elton impression by slagging off Margaret Thatcher, Bob Hawke and Ronald Reagan over their handling of the Colonel Kadaffi situation. Wow, America messing up an armed conflict but Australia and England's prime ministers are too busy being the senile American President's butt monkeys... how times change.
The final part of the episode is agony personified. I wanted to throw bricks at the TV. Me. A guy who owns Niel Pye's Book of the Dead!
Rik and Ben are telling us yet again how sexy they are because Molly Meldrum is not sexy. They don't slag off his hat, his sexuality or anything remotely cutting edge, oh no, he likes the Uncanny X Men! At this point Molly himself bursts in carrying the most fake and rubbery hammer ever. Rik insults Molly's lack of sexiness and gets hit over the head with the hammer. My spirits soar briefly as Rik drops completely out of character and critiques "Ian" for the rubbish prop. Similarly out of character, Ben reveals he swapped the fake hammer for a real one. Rik suddenly acts in agony and falls over, showing off his crotch to the whole world.
Twenty two years later I reach for the razor blades...
Ben and Molly drop into a scripted and boring "so what are you up to" monologue wherein Ben casually calls his writing partner Rik "illiterate" (and from watching this, I agree). Meanwhile Rik appears behind Molly and starts pulling stupid faces, before smashing something over Molly's head and apparently killing him: cue more raspberries and V-signs and the episode thankfully ends.
Now, I laughed at this bit for one reason only: I thought the murder weapon was some kind of Award, like a Logie or something that Molly had won over the years, so it would be satirical like the Grim Reaper claiming Norman Gunston's soul for the Logie... but no. Just a whiskey bottle.
My dad pointed out this was surely the only other time this ep of Countdown had been "sent into the ether" and I agree. I wish it hadn't been there, so my memories of my comedy heroes could remain untarnished. After all, I had seen their future, a second Australian tour, in 1988...
And back to the VHS tapes. Between one episode of The D-Generation and Bomb, there was an add for the return of something called "Beatbox", a kind of music show held in high regard by hundreds of Australians, judging by the add: lots of different people either marvel at its return or with the aid of crude editing stutter "Beatbox" with wide-eyed drug-fueled excitement. Anyway, the last part of the add is Rik and Ben sitting in a pub at night, drinkining. "It's... on... an... hour... earlier..." Ben says solemly to camera, as if making it clear to a backward three year old with the attention span of a goldfish and a lot easier to understand than the rest of the rapid-edited adds, "than... it used... to be..."
"And you best watch it," says Rik calmly with a smile and that disturbing light he can put into his eyes, "or be triangular, which is the new word for being square."
A five second infodump more entertaining than their entire work on Countdown.
How the mighty fell. Or maybe rose, since I saw these things back to front.
But, seriously, what was up with Rage last night? After Countdown, we had ten minutes of black and white interview with some guy who is a male model in the 1960s. No music at all. What?! Rage, you're standing in it...