Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We Love Boosh!

The recent BBC documentary on The Mighty Boosh got me thinking about comedy influences. My generation came some time after the TW3 generation, but it was inspired by many from that era who wrote for TV, radio and Punch and Private Eye - a deeply cynical, and slightly anarchic lot, but all very middle-aged and very much part of the establishment.

My generation's main comedy influence though was, arguably, the Pythons, but they were really aimed above our heads as the percentage of State School pupils who would progress to university and therefore understand all the knowing Python references was very, very, very small indeed. To be honest, people like me were much more likely to be inspired comedically, and visually, by a lot of kids TV and comedy shows like Catweazle, H.R. Pufnstuff, Rentaghost and The Double Deckers, than all those Cambridge Footlights.

Perhaps it was my arrested development, and nerdy comic-collecting behaviour, but I didn't actually pay a lot of attention to Monty Python at all, the science geeks, the ones who walked by bouncing on the soles of their feet and referred to 'Zep' and 'the Quo' liked them, but I didn't. I much preferred kids TV, and I was in no hurry to become an adult. At 15 I was still collecting comic books, and TV finished at six o'clock for me because from then until I went to bed I was out playing football. Years later, when I started working as a cartoonist and comic illustrator, I met quite a few cartoonists of around the same age as me who would mention the Moomins and Pufinstuf as more of an influence on their art than the humour of the Python team, and I hope they'll forgive me, but I think I can see similar influences in the work of the Mighty Boosh.

Of course the show itself now looks a little like an arty underground comic book brought to life, but I think that's simply because of its similar origins in that surreal playground of golden age kiddy shows. I know a lot of indy comic artists who are Boosh fans, and who also have the latest Moomin Troll collection from Drawn and Quarterly and even have Pufnstuf on DVD, and that makes me think I may be right about this; and that warms my heart because last night's documentary made me think the new young Boosh fans are in good hands and the influence of the show will be felt amongst a new generation of comedians, writers and illustrators.

The show itself is mighty weird and that resonates with me because a lot of the stuff we grew up watching was also pretty weird, even seen from this safe distance, from Catweazle to Pob and the early influences of Japanese animation with Marine Boy and Gigantor, but it also had warmth and heart, and it wasn't always without a hint of menace. More importantly though, these shows inspired creative ideas, from writing to drawing, even dressing up like the characters, and that is something that The Mighty Boosh manages to do today, in a way that hardly any other shows, particularly comedy shows, can.

The trouble with the shows of my youth, though, like Pufnstuf, was that it wasn't really there to keep a hold of us as we progressed into our late teens. It did appeal to children and adults, for very different reasons, but as teenagers we sort of fell into the middle. We didn't really have much in the way of comedy specifically aimed at us. Anything that was made with us in mind was either presented by patronising adults or weirdly precocious kids with whom we had nothing in common, and it was invariably lame to boot. And I think that until very recently that has always been the case, which is why I think The Mighty Boosh is such an important show. Don't get me wrong, it can be pretty potty-mouthed and sly, but it is acceptably hip for the teens and tweens and yet still suitably anarchic for the parents, which is a rare cocktail.

I wasn't much of a fan of the radio show, but I've been watching a couple of series now, and I like to think I can see in The Mighty Boosh, some familiarity with the TV shows that shaped my generation and the next and lit the creative spark in those of us who were receptive to that magic. I think I can see the energy of The Double Deckers, some of the magic of The Tales from Europe's Singing Ringing Tree (a bear instead of a gorilla), some of the surreality of H.R Pufnstuf, and a little of the strange beauty of the Moomins.

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