Gregg Nunney: Learning to appreciate slapstick

Gregg has only recently begun to appreciate the slapstick comedy of Rik Mayall, right
Gregg has only recently begun to appreciate the slapstick comedy of Rik Mayall, right

I seem to be maturing in reverse.

It generally goes that when you’re younger you like puerile, slapstick humour, and when you grow up your tastes evolve into something much more sophisticated.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I spent my teenage years watching Question Time (although I did stay up late for it one night thinking it was a quiz show), but I could never see the appeal of things like Carry On, Benny Hill and Bottom.

The truth is, of course, is that the appeal is simply this: they are funny.

On a deeper level you can question whether they act as some kind of social commentary and allow us to laugh at nuances we recognise in our own lives (this may not be the case with Benny Hill) but, that aside, there’s something eternally amusing about someone slipping on a banana skin or an item of clothing pinging off in the wrong direction.

I’d only just started to appreciate the genius of Bottom when Rik Mayall died.

Mayall was part of an anarchic generation of comedians who emerged from the ashes of the “Wheeltappers and Shunters”-esque comedy clubs of the 1970s.

Their comedy was underground at first as it stood in the way of the blue, jingoistic tradition that had gone before but when programmes like Not The Nine O’ Clock News, The Young Ones and Blackadder became hits they were thrust into the mainstream.

These days we think of Ben Elton as an author, Tony Robinson as an archaeologist and Adrian Edmondson as a Masterchef, but without them today’s comedy landscape would be completely different – certainly less irreverent.

Mayall’s death came less than a year after Mel Smith’s and it’s odd to think of that generation of young anarchists as being in their autumn years.

In the past few weeks he has been lauded as the greatest comic actor of a generation and, I’m sure, will be remembered as one of the kings of physical humour.