The Comedy Vault – Ghost Town.

Ghost Town (2008)

Following on from my recent review of The Invention Of Lying, this is another American comedy film that starred Ricky Gervais. I know that I keep going on about it, but I am still rather bemused to think one day you could only really see him on TV appearing as a panellist on Channel 4’s The 11 O’Clock Show, and the like (along with his radio work on XFM of course).

He also greeted everything with rather crazed laughter, falling somewhere on the hysterics scale between Dick And Dom and Danny Baker. And then he goes on to be one of the biggest names in British comedy (mostly thanks to The Office), next he’s gone and cracked the supposedly very difficult American market in about five minutes, and suddenly he’s got a rather big collection of showbiz mates.

Ghost Town isn’t anything to do with chart-topping singles from the 80s though. But it was a romantic comedy where Ricky stars as a rather downbeat English dentist working in America called Bertram Pincus (because you get so many English chaps called Bertram nowadays don’t you). After an operation, he discovers that he has the strange ability to see and hear dead people.

Now he isn’t the first to be able to experience this in a film of course, but the problem is that he finds them all rather irritating. In the bustling metropolis that is New York, he soon realises that in the city that never sleeps, even the ghosts don’t even seem to sleep either or something. But wherever they have all come from, he considers all of them to be in his way. Why can’t they leave him in peace?

But somehow, he eventually manages to befriend a ghost, who wants help to put a scheme together with his widow. Ghost Town seemed to receive fairly positive reviews, but I imagine that Ricky is someone who wouldn’t really care too much what anybody thinks about his work really. This is because he probably considers his fairly late-blossoming career compared to most to be something that all of his critics could only dream of having, so shut up, yeah?

When was the last time you embarrassed Tom Hanks on stage? His English accent does still jar though, he hasn’t picked up too many Americanisms. Also among the cast are Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear, who presumably had no problem taking second place to Ricky’s antics. The DVD extras include a look behind the scenes, and how they made some of the spooky special effects.

The Comedy Vault – The Naked Gun trilogy.

The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad! (1988)/The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell Of Fear (1991)/The Naked Gun 33: The Final Insult (1994)

Now you should think yourselves lucky because for just about the first time you are really going to get three film reviews in one. I have already reviewed the American sitcom Police Squad, which starred Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin, and told the story of how I actually first remember seeing this character in the early-90s adverts for Red Rock.

I really enjoyed the wordplay and general silliness. I then went on to discover the film Airplane!, and finally see Police Squad, and it was as terrific as I’d hoped it would be. Nielsen’s deadpan style while some rather strange things were happening around him really did cause a stir. But there were only six episodes, making this one of the shortest-running sitcoms on US TV.

It was clear that there was still plenty in the idea though, and eventually this was taken to the extreme with The Naked Gun trilogy. When there is trouble around, there is clearly only one person who can solve things. And nobody knows why. Whether it’s rather important people such as monarchs, he’ll do everything that he possibly can.

These films were so daft, that when there were the two sequels, they even messed around with the numbering. When I was younger, I was fairly convinced that there was both a 2 and a 2½, I’m not sure why, and it seems that I invented a film that didn’t exist. But the ones that actually do exist are rather good, and were praised by a variety of critics.

The Naked Gun even got on to the cover of Radio Times, how impressive. It really is so difficult for me to pick my favourite out of the three films. Even the credits are amusing. These are now considered to be in the top bracket of the comedy films from this era, put it this way, you won’t only ever see these on the TV at 2am, sponsored by Pimlico Plumbers.

There were many other zany comedy films around this time, most of them influenced by The Naked Gun, or made by the same directors, and Nielsen even appeared in a few himself, but these three will always be the best. They have all been released on DVD in a boxset, but they contain few extras (well the one that I have don’t). What’s that all about.

The Comedy Vault – Shaun Of The Dead.

Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

This is a British comedy film, although this could actually be placed into the genre of horror romantic comedy, which must be unique. What attracted me to this one was that the main character was played by Simon Pegg (stop saying “bid, again Simon!“), who had already appeared in various acclaimed TV comedy shows since the mid-90s including Spaced.

Indeed, many felt that this was essentially Spaced The Movie, and it was also one of the first steps to Pegg becoming a rather high-profile film star and going on to appear in various other comedy films. This is also considered to be the first part in “The Cornetto Trilogy”, which also includes Hot Fuzz, which I reviewed a while ago now, along with The World’s End.

It’s a day that is not going rather well for Shaun (and it’s rather convenient that he has that name, you get the feeling that if he was called something like “Trevor” then none of this would probably have happened). He often spends his time in the local pub, alongside his mate (trusty sidekick Nick Frost), to the point that he is dumped by his girlfriend.

He decides that he must win her back, but he runs into a slight problem when a rather large amount of zombies appear out of nowhere, and get right in his way. At least he’ll have a good story to tell when he does eventually make it back to the pub. And of course, he also learns a lot of about himself along the way, like the fact that he likes to give zombies a good slapping.

Shaun Of The Dead was a rather big success. I remember that this was released at around the same time that I started to buy Time Out regularly, and there were several issues containing a full-page advert, and they were also among the group of critics who thought that this was a good film. And there are a lot of extras on the DVD, that run to a total that is almost as long as the actual film.

These include the usual outtakes and a look behind the scenes, and there is also fun with trying to guess the people who have been in make-up all day so that they can be in the big zombie crowd too. Isn’t that the guy off Spaced? Well it might be. And this must also be the only DVD that contains plotholes as an extra, taking a look at the mistakes and unresolved stories. How post-modern.

This is definitely a popular film that quickly gained a cult following, bringing something new to the genre, and also won several awards. This was a great idea with a great cast. Proof of this is that there have been roughly 20,000 showings on ITV2, but people do always want to watch this. Pegg’s film career took off and he has never looked back really.

The Comedy Vault – Ace Ventura.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)/Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)

These are some more American comedy films, and I have decided to make this a two for the price of one piece. Firstly, the Ace Ventura films are significant because they helped to propel the career of comic actor Jim Carrey to the next level, suddenly he seemed to be everywhere, and was one of the biggest names on the film comedy scene.

And looking back, it wasn’t that much of a surprise really, because his quick-moving and energetic performances amused a lot of people. Ace Ventura styled himself as The Pet Detective (and indeed the only person to be such a thing), and he liked to wear rather horrible shirts too. He thinks that he can communicate with animals, and help to solve all their problems.

In the first film, he goes on the search for the missing Miami Dolphins mascot. Is there chaos along the way? Well I suppose there is. Also among the cast was Courteney Cox, soon to star in Friends. I remember there being a lot of buzz around this film, and one critic said that this was “bladder burstingly funny”, which is just rather alarming really.

Ace Ventura quickly became popular enough for there to be a spin-off cartoon series, along with the other Carrey films The Mask and Dumb And Dumber (which was my favourite of the three), although they were all fun, and this showed how well his style had gone down with younger viewers. It seemed rather inevitable that there would be a sequel to all this, hopefully the newly bankable Carrey could fit it into his rather busy schedule.

Ace Ventura did indeed return a year later in When Nature Calls. This time he was in Africa, doing anything that he could to help out the jungle animals, whilst making daft faces and shoving things up his nose, and going to any length to get a laugh. They probably end up being more worried than they were before he turned up to supposedly solve their mysteries.

There were a few familiar faces among the cast of this one too, including Ian McNeice, who is better known nowadays for appearing in lots of episodes of comedy-drama series Doc Martin. Again, this was all fairly well-received, but the idea would go no further, although there have been recent rumours that Ace might yet return. The DVD boxset that I have is rather light on extras though.

The Comedy Vault – The Invention Of Lying.

The Invention Of Lying (2009)

This is another American comedy film, although this was co-written, co-produced, and co-directed by English-born Ricky Gervais, who also plays the main character. Now Ricky’s career has taken rather a lot of unusual swerves over the years, involving music and comedy. In the 80s, he had an attempt at becoming a pop star, which wasn’t very successful.

But I was rather amused when I found an old Smash Hits article online that predicted who they thought would be the big new stars of 1984, and his group Seona Dancing was on the list, along with others including Madonna, and one definitely ended up doing better than the other. But by the 90s, he had got into comedy, including his rather bizarre show on radio station XFM.

His TV work included appearing on Channel 4’s The 11 O’Clock Show, along with eventually having a comedy show of his own, and he definitely didn’t really seem to care about who he wound up. This then led to The Office, which was a big triumph, and this led to his breakthrough in America. Suddenly he was one of the big stars too, playing a dolphin in Family Guy was only a part, who would’ve thought it.

He now likes to host awards ceremonies, and make everyone cringe with his mildly rude jokes. Well Tom Hanks didn’t know where to look! He’s certainly stirred things up. And where is Madonna now? I didn’t expect all of this to happen when he was shouting at people on XFM all those years earlier I must admit. Fame at last! And the films that he has appeared in include this one.

Another reason that I was interested in seeing The Invention Of Lying is because also among the cast is Jennifer Garner, who also starred in the creative and rather explosive drama series Alias, so it was good to see her again, especially in a comedy role this time. It was rather odd to hear Ricky’s English accent clash against all of the Americans, but I don’t think that you’re supposed to notice that.

This film features a world where there is no lying, so at the start the characters are amusingly blunt about sharing their thoughts and feelings. But what would happen if you could lie? Mark accidentally invents the lie, but he doesn’t realise what the consequences are going to be. Suddenly he is rather successful, but should he confess that he got there by being so dishonest?

DVD extras on The Invention Of Lying include deleted scenes, along with some corpsing outtakes, which there are rather a lot of. Put it this way, if laughter does make you healthier and help to make you live longer, then Ricky will probably live to about 125. This isn’t the only film that he starred in around this time, the big show-off, I’ll review some more soon.

The Comedy Vault – Anchorman.

Anchorman (2004)

Just about the last area of my DVD collection that I have to tap into more are some American comedy films. Now these definitely aren’t low-key, probably not made near where I live, or only likely to be shown on the TV rather late at night, but I thought that I might as well give these a review, although I’m not sure what angle I’ll take. But I was attracted to this film for a few reasons.

Anchorman is a film that is a parody of American local TV news shows in the 70s. The only previous experience that I had of seeing this kind of thing were some of the outtakes the featured on the earlier editions of It’ll Be Alright On The Night, as there were just so many channels in America, and rather a lot of archive to go through.

Although I then went on to see more of these type of shows online, and it also made me realise how far we’d come with technology, with only the ding of a typewriter being a familiar noise back in those days. But this does lead me to Anchorman. The main character is Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell, who I’m fairly sure I also share a birthday with).

He is the main host of a local news show in San Diego, and to put it mildly, he thinks rather a lot of himself, thinking that he has the honour and responsibility of providing only the most important news to his loyal and enthralled viewers. His colleagues are an all-male team, who host the sport, and the weather and so on. But this group isn’t going to be so cosy for much longer.

I was rather amused that one of them was called Brick, because it reminded me of the episode of Goodnight Sweetheart where there was a character from the future called Brick, and he insisted that this was now a common first name, so the one in this film was clearly ahead of his time. They are all suddenly shaken by the arrival of Veronica, who is going to be Ron’s new co-anchor.

Veronica was played by Christina Applegate of Married… With Children sitcom fame (alongside many other things of course), and it was good to see her again. Suddenly there’s a big challenge, but she has more than earned her place on the team. Ron is rather upset about all of this, and soon lets everyone know about it. He’s not so classy now.

Anchorman was rather well received, and it is considered to be one of the better comedy films of its era, with even one or two quotes becoming very popular. DVD extras include deleted scenes and outtakes. There was also the spin-off book Let Me Off At The Top!, where Ron looked back at his career that definitely isn’t as spectacular as he insists. But there seemed to be the potential to explore this character more, and this led to a sequel. I’ll review that soon too.

More TV Memories – Stressed Eric.

Stressed Eric (BBC2, 1998-2000)

The word “stressed” backwards is “desserts” – just think about that. Er, right… Something rather interesting happened on American TV in the 90s, when there was a big wave of animated sitcoms aimed at adults. Where The Simpsons led, many others followed, including King Of The Hill. It seemed a logical step to produce some of these for British TV too.

I’ve already looked back at Bob And Margaret, which is an example of one of these, and this is another one. The main character in Stressed Eric was voiced by Mark Heap, and as you could know by now, I’ll always consider this to be a good move, you can’t really go wrong if he is among your cast. Eric Feeble is a 40-year-old father-of-two who is divorced, and we often hear this thoughts.

Eric’s wife has long-since left him. The two children are his daughter Claire who is allergic to almost everything, along with his son Brian, who almost never speaks, and he likes to eat things that are supposedly inedible. To help out, he has Maria, a teenage Portuguese au pair (who has blue hair!!), but it she is rather useless, and even worse behaved than the children.

At work, Eric’s angry boss is rather demanding like the ones in various 80s pop songs, and he likes to say “arseburgers” all the time (and as far as invented expletives go, that’s got to be up there with “Burt Bacharach!”). When things inevitably go wrong, he likes to yell “Feeble!”, as if he’s in a 50s sitcom or something. Can you believe it.

And then there are the next-door neighbours Mr and Mrs Perfect, supposedly the finest example of a happy family. All of this eventually gets on top of him, and episodes conclude with his heart pumping and his head little short of exploding, it’s a rather bold move to essentially make your main character’s catchphrase “woooarrggh!”. Oh Eric, will you ever win?

Stressed Eric was an Absolutely production, meaning that Morwenna Banks and Gordon Kennedy were among the cast providing the voices, as were Alexander Armstrong and Rebecca Front. There were 13 episodes in two series, and there were plenty of changes for the second, including a switch to widescreen and digital animation, along with moving timeslot from 10pm to 6:45pm. There were also repeat runs on BBC Choice and UK Play.

Interestingly, Stressed Eric was sold to an American market, with Eric’s voice being redubbed by Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons fame), and about five minutes had to be edited out to fit the timeslot. This wasn’t really a success though, with many critics feeling that this didn’t have much to offer that could rival The Simpsons or any similar show.

The Comedy Vault – The Powder Room.

The Powder Room (2013)

This is another British comedy film from the past decade or so, only I don’t think that I saw this one turn up late at night on London Live, it might’ve actually been on Film4 instead. But the reason that I was attracted to this one at all is because the main character was played by Sheridan Smith, someone who I and many others always enjoy seeing.

Now Sheridan is someone who has won a lot of awards over the years, although these are mostly for her drama work, but it was good to see her doing something closer to comedy again, although I doubt that anyone will consider this to be the pinnacle of her career, I had to take a look, and this has also been released on DVD. The Powder Room was based on a play, that was eventually turned into a film.

Sam (played by Sheridan) decides to have a night out at a rather trendy nightclub. But we mostly see now the night plays out in the room where there is a lot of, er, powder. It will turn out to be a night that few of them will forget though. Sam meets up with some old college friends, but she isn’t exactly truthful about what she has been up to in the years since.

There are also some interludes that feature some rather funky music that all of the youngsters like. Sam’s life is about to be completely turned upside down by her mistakes. She is so embarrassed she will barely be able to face her friends on MySpace ever again. There really are a strange lot of goings on, but Sam takes the opportunity to access where her life is going.

By the end, Daniel Bedingfield’s song comes on, much to the delight of the crowd, and Sam finally realises who her BFF (as the teenagers used to say about 20 years ago) really is. So there is a sort-of happy ending. Also featuring in the cast are Jaime Winstone and Kate Nash. Critics didn’t seem to get too worked up about The Powder Room, although one said that Sheridan’s performance was “fantastic” (well of course). There are no extras on the DVD though.

Radio Memories – Little Britain.

Little Britain (BBC Radio 4, 2000-2002)

The double-act Lucas and Walliams had worked on several comedy shows over the years, including Rock Profile. But when they launched a sketch show on the radio, they must’ve been hoping for this to do well of course. In Little Britain, we were invited to meet the people of Britain, and it didn’t take long to realise what a remarkable bunch they really are.

All of the sketches featured an introduction from the booming voice of Tom Baker. I imagine that they had ambitions to eventually transfer this to TV, but the success must’ve exceeded even their expectations. I must admit that I didn’t hear too much of this first time round, and yet again, a repeat run on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra let me finally catch up.

The characters who would soon become rather familiar included Marjorie Dawes and Vicky Pollard. Of course, having lots of catchphrases definitely helped catch the attention of listeners. And when I finally heard the first series, I was surprised by how many sketches were recycled for the TV version, and that’s probably why that series managed to hit the ground running.

It would be because all of the characters had already been established and they knew how to play them. I imagine that it would’ve also been rather fun for them to work on what these characters would look like, and create the right image for them. The supporting cast was rather good too, and managed to help them out with the sketches.

But little did they realise that not only would there be a TV version, but this would also lead to the tours, the games, the dolls, the keyrings, they really did milk the merchandise, but then people did want to buy them. Well who wouldn’t want a Vicky all of their own to fondle. There were two series of the radio version of Little Britain, Lucas and Walliams would soon be among the biggest names in comedy, how nice. Goodbay!

The Comedy Vault – Johnny Vegas Live.

Johnny Vegas is someone who has had one of the more unusual careers in British comedy. He first came on to the stand-up scene in the late-90s, and he caused something of a stir for a few reasons. This is because he is into his pottery, and he would often get out his wheel and do his routine whilst making a pot, which is definitely something different.

He also had a rather shouty style, and this would be enhanced as he would usually have had a Guinness or seven before going on stage. He was also rather fond of taking his shirt off to liven up a dull gig. He shows are rather odd, but not in a surreal way, more outrageous. If he doesn’t end lying face down on the floor, shirtless and with ripped trousers, it’s been a disappointing night.

I don’t really recall the first time that I saw Johnny on TV, but he started to become a well-known name around the early-2000s. This was due to his unpredictable appearances on shows including Shooting Stars where he was a regular panellist for a series, along with being rather enthusiastic about hazily remembering things that happened in the 80s. And of course there were also those adverts, but even he couldn’t save ITV Digital from going under. I’ll never be able to watch MTV again.

He has also featured in various sitcoms including Ideal and Benidorm. But it was decided that he should probably return to his stand-up roots, and some of these shows have been released on DVD, including Johnny Vegas Live At The Benidorm Palace. And well, once you get Johnny going, he is barely able to stop, your home will be rather full of cows before his finishes his routine.

Johnny tells us all about why he likes to visit sunny Benidorm so much, along with plenty of anecdotes about his crazy family. He does indeed get his wheel out, and he picks someone out of the crowd to join in, which is a rather exciting experience for everyone. There really is nobody else like him on the scene, one is enough really. There are also some extras that feature even more fun with Johnny.