Onion Talking: Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer on House of Fools

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION
© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Next week sees the launch of Series Two of House of Fools – the brilliantly surreal sitcom from the minds of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

Co-starring Dan Skinner, Matt Berry, Morgana Robinson, Daniel Simonsen and Ellie White, the show also features cameo appearances from  Reece Shearsmith, Rufus Jones, Tony Way, Tom Davis and many more.

To celebrate its return, TVO sat down with the main cast during the filming of Series Two to discuss the show. Today, we bring you our catch-up with the legendary duo at the centre of it all: Reeves and Mortimer.

Television listings describe House of Fools as a sitcom. Which, by definition it is, but there’s far more to the multi-camera, studio-audience enhanced end product. In today’s climate, even mainstream fair like Mrs Brown’s Boys breaks down the fourth wall, slyly winking to the viewers at home as well as those in the studio just how absurd the traditional sitcom format is.

So when the mainstream is doing exactly what the alternative was doing twenty years ago, it falls to the alternative to do something, well… ‘Alternative’ once more. Thankfully, Vic Reeves (real name Jim Moir) and Bob Mortimer have grafted for over 25 years doing exactly that, and their long-awaited move into sitcom territory is as utterly unique as it is delightful. It was only natural, then, that it’s superb first series would be followed by a second run.

Of course, the tropes of sitcom are there, but the duo have always taken the traditional and run with it in their own inimitable style: their natural chemistry and love of the hyper-surreal carving out a legacy of incredible programming. Big Night Out, The Smell Of Reeves & Mortimer, Bang Bang It’s Reeves & Mortimer, Shooting Stars, Catterick… even their underrated turn at drama in short lived fantasy series Randall & Hopkirk {deceased} has a charm quite unlike anything else seen on British television in the last few decades. Truly, they stand apart from their peers, even as they rub shoulders with them, and inject everything they do with a high standard of professionalism beneath the on-screen madness.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

That said, today’s House of Fools recording, isn’t going too well. The sheer complexity of the show requires for a number of shots to be pre-filmed before the audience arrive: and the more of them there are, the more it cuts into camera-rehearsal. Filming in Salford, but rehearsing in London, the camera-rehearsal is crucial to locking down the show as it will eventually appear on screen, and the lack of one causes (the admittedly still hilarious) filming to overrun – the entire end sequence left unfilmed as the cast and crew take a break before the day’s second recording block has to get the job done.

“Were you down there watching?” asks Bob Mortimer nervously, as he and Jim Moir, the man behind the public persona of Vic Reeves, settle down to talk and grab a well-deserved bite to eat in a somewhat condensed lunch hour, less than five minutes after shooting was forced to wrap up. TVO assures him we were, and in spite of the problems, what we saw was still working really well. “We ran out of time,” he continues. Jim chips in. “We had so many things on the pre-record, and there’s lots of camera moves.”

“It is weird, when you haven’t done it in front of the cameras, isn’t it, Jim?” asks Bob. “Yeah,” Jim replies. “We’ll see how the second run goes.”

Bob continues: “The thing is we’ve got so many props and pre-records,” he states, “you’ve got to be ahead of it. You can’t come in on the day and say: ‘Can we have this prop?’ There’s no time to do anything new. Rehearsals change what, Jim? Twenty or thirty percent?”

“We do change little bits here and there,” Jim adds. “But it’s all there in the script. If you can’t do your lines, someone jumps in front of you and you’re in trouble.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

With the option to stay and watch the second studio record later that day, TVO sticks around, and the transformation is incredible.  What was a hilarious, if somewhat jumbled first run has been replaced by a smooth, well-oiled production, which, although overrunning due to only one chance to film the complex end sequence, ably demonstrates the skill with which the pair, and all of those around them, craft these episodes. They may have had a tough afternoon, but it’s a fun evening ahead of them.

Not that Jim and Bob are aware of this as we talk, and fearing we have perhaps dwelled on the negatives for too long, TVO decides to lighten the mood.  First off, who amongst the cast is most likely to fluff their lines, we ponder.

“Fucking me,” Bob blurts out, laughing. “Shit,” he adds… “You can take that answer and run with it!”

With the vibe improving, we suggest a quick game of Snog, Marry, Avoid, reworked in keeping with the House of Fools theme by asking who the pair would Rent with, get a Mortgage with, and Evict. We’re sure you’ll all be playing this by Easter, especially as the thought gets the approval of ‘Reeves & Mortimer’.

“I wouldn’t wanna live with Beef,” considers Bob. “I’d throw Beef out. Dirty man.”

“Vic Reeves is mentally inefficient,” states the man himself, firmly removed from his stage persona. “I think you’d probably want Bob to rent with.”

So, no mortgage for the duo?

“You’re asking if we got a house,” Bob clarifies, “would we get a joint mortgage?” He bursts out laughing as Jim props his chin up and grins that mischievous grin that only ‘Vic Reeves’ can. “Great question,” he adds, and pauses for a moment. “Yeah, we probably would. We’d probably get interest only as well.”

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Perhaps, TVO opines, they could open a bistro of their own, just like their neighbour Julie has in the new series. Bob decides it could be called Vicky Manhattans, before Jim fires back the suggestion of George Bensons. Bob immediately changes this to Benson and Hedges, as they start giggling to themselves: that natural chemistry that has fuelled over two decades together in full force.  Some things never change, even when the ideas around them do.

House of Fools for example, was a first for the pair. Though they had dabbled in the sitcom world with their dark comic drama Catterick back in 2004, the closest they had ever come to a studio sitcom was the running Slade in Residence sketch from The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer.  In recent years, the studio-sitcom has been somewhat dismissed by alternative comedy, with only The IT Crowd really shining as an example outside of the mainstream. Jim and Bob’s reasoning for doing one now is surprisingly pragmatic.

“I think it’s something we always wanted to do,” states Moir. “I think the days when you’re kinda forced into doing a quiz show went away, so we said: ‘This is what we want to do.’ We spent a long time thinking about it, and working it out. It was quick to start with, and we had a lot of advice, so we knew it was going to work. If you put enough work into something, it’ll work out in the end.”

“In a practical sense,” Mortimer adds, “we bumped into someone from the Beeb, and told them we were going to write a sitcom. And they said: ‘Alright, if you do, give it to us and we’ll have a look’. That was quite quick, wasn’t it? We wrote one in a couple of days, did a pilot. The procedure’s never really that grand, is it, Jim? It’s more like bumping into the right person at the right time.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the initial set-up, however, was the casting of the supporting roles. While ‘Vic’ and Bob play heightened versions of themselves, they are ably backed up by regular collaborator Dan Skinner as hapless Bosh, as well as new collaborators Matt Berry as randy randomer Beef, Morgana Robinson as frankly bonkers neighbour Julie, and Norwegian stand-up Daniel Simonsen as Bob’s reclusive son Erik. This year, they are also joined by Erik’s girlfriend, Rachel – played by relative newcomer character comedian Ellie White.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

Then there’s the guest roles, filled across the series by the likes of Reece Shearsmith, Sally Philips, Rufus Jones, Tim Healey, Tom Davies, Romesh Ranganathan and Tony Way, to name but a few, with the latter three filming today’s episode as a dance gang. It’s that combination of established names that Jim & Bob know so well, and the encouragement of up and coming talent that has traced its way through their career ever since they were established enough to call the shots somewhat. Let’s not forget, it was through Reeves & Mortimer shows that the likes of Matt Lucas, Rhys Thomas and Tony Way got their big breaks.

“Tony was like sixteen or seventeen on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer,” remembers Moir. “And then he was in The Club [a running sketch in Bang Bang] as well.” And dancing with you both in the studio, TVO points out. “Yeah,” Mortimer laughs, “with a firework up his arse!”

With a track record in providing a platform for new talents, TVO wonders if the pair consciously elect to nurture fresh faces. “I think we give them a chance,” Jim begins. “Then it’s up to you…”

We’re suddenly cut off, by loudspeaker announcement, as the audience for the evening session is about to be let into the studio. “Attention please,” it says, drowning out Jim in mid-thought. “Ladies and gentlemen for House of Fools. We will be going into studio in approximately ten minutes. We will call you in by the colour…”

“Of your skin!” yells ‘Vic’, gleefully, and the pair erupt with back and forth banter once more, before Bob straightens up.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“The thing with Daniel [Simonsen] is…” he trails off, trying to find the right words to say. “We’ve been wanting to do something with him for ages. And Ellie was just a friend of a friend to come in and read lines during rehearsal, but she was great.”

“These things kind of evolve a bit,” Jim adds. “They have to evolve naturally, and then you work on it after that.”

“It’s brilliant,” Bob states, smiling. “When you use Dan, and you use Daniel, and you use Matt and Morgana, you just know they’re comfortable with the way we work, and they’re comfortable with us. So they’ll lob their own stuff in and bring it to life. We knew what to write for them, and what would work because of that shorthand. But it’s more about the story than anything.”

After all of this time, it would be easy for Reeves & Mortimer to fall into a generic pattern, relying on old gags and goodwill to get by. Instead, they’re pushing the limitations of what can be done in a studio sitcom, with a cast who get what they do and strive to help them make the best show they can. Three episodes into recording the second series, the pair are confident they’re onto a winner.

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

© Pett TV / Christopher Baines

“Last week’s was fucking great!” Bob enthuses.

“And Christmas was good as well,” chips in Jim. “They’ve all been really good, I think. Better than the last series, up to now.”

“I’ve no idea what this one is like, though,” adds Bob, seemingly with the worry of the looming record drifting back into his mind.  TVO can’t help but hope there’s more to come, and perhaps a slightly stripped back version of the show could be taken on the road, too?

“I think it’s great fun to do,” Jim sums up. “If people want it, we’ll keep doing ‘em.”

“Everyone involved in it, would like to do a run in a theatre, wouldn’t they, Jim?” asks Bob, as his partner in crime nods. “I don’t know whether that will happen, but we’d all like to do it.”

TVO is sure it would work, and notes that the chemistry between the gang, and between Reeves & Mortimer themselves, feels so natural it would be a shame for it not to happen.

“Well,” notes Jim, with a knowing wink in his eye, “That’s acting!”

And with that, they’re off to do more of it. That episode won’t record itself.

House of Fools returns on Monday 16th February at 10pm on BBC2. The first series is available on dvd from 23rd February.

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About Paul Holmes

Editor of The Velvet Onion since 2010, I also work in arts marketing and digital content producing, writer for a few things, listen to a lot of vinyl and watch lots and lots of Doctor Who.

Posted on February 11, 2015, in Interviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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