Alternative Comedy blossomed in the UK in the late-1970’s and early-80’s as a group of young British comedians struck out from the mainstream with their own anarchic brand of humor, which would ultimately be showcased in Peter Richardson’s “The Comic Strip” at the Raymond Revue Bar. Peter Richardson approached the newly formed Channel 4 in the hopes of making comedic films for television, and The Comic Strip Presents would ultimately be the first program optioned by Channel 4 producer Mike Bolland. The series would later move to the BBC and ultimately find an audience in the States on MTV along with other such series as The Young Ones. Appearing on DVD for the first time in North America, this 9-disc set includes the entirety of the incredible 39-film run of The Comic Strip Presents in addition to a handful of terrific bonus features.
The Comic Strip Presents functions much like a sketch comedy series except that each standalone sketch is in fact the length of an entire film with films as short as a half hour and as long as The Comic Strip‘s sole feature-length effort, The Supergrass. With this in mind, there are obviously a few misses among the 39 films, but that’s really just the nature of the format. That said, there are still too many great films in the run to name in the brief space this review allots me, much less analyze them in any substantive manner. However, a short list of what I consider the absolute funniest films in the series would include the Famous Five children’s books parodies, “Five Go Mad in Dorset” and “Five Go Mad on Mescalin;” the Rose d’Or-winning “The Strike;” “Detectives on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown;” “The Beat Generation;” The Silence of the Lambs parody, “Gregory: Diary of a Nutcase;” and, of course, Adrian Edmondson’s “Bad News Tour” and “More Bad News.” Predating This is Spinal Tap, “Bad News Tour” and “More Bad News” relate the saga of Bad News, an inept heavy metal garage band. The films shockingly culminate with the band playing for thousands of real-life metal fans who, seemingly unaware of the gag, angrily hurl trash and bottles at the gang on stage.
Admittedly, with the immense amount of talent involved in The Comic Strip Presents it came as no surprise to me to find so many wonderful films in this set. The Comic Strip’s regulars include Peter Richardson; The Young Ones‘ Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle; Robbie Coltrane; Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders; Phil Cornwell; and Gary Beadle. As if that wasn’t enough to guarantee a great series, the film’s guests include Miranda Richardson, Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, Jeff Beck, Jim Broadbent, Josie Lawrence, Lenny Henry, Tim McInnerny, Anthony Stewart Head, and Lemmy of Motorhead! And yet, from among the dozens of incredibly talented individuals showcased in The Comic Strip, Adrian Edmondson stood out to me as the most invaluable performer to the success of the series’ comedy. His consistently brilliant performances never failed to elicit a laugh from me, and the “Bad News” double feature, both of which he wrote in addition to directing “More Bad News” and playing Bad News’ front man Vim Fuego, are probably my most cherished of all the films.
Although the set includes but four special features, the combined running time of the features provides more than two hours of bonus material. These four features are “The Comic Strip– A Retrospective” from 2005, which primarily focuses on behind-the-scenes anecdotes from specific films; the 2 parts of “First Laugh on Four” from 1998, which functions as more of a history of The Comic Strip club and the resultant series of films than the retrospective; and “The Comic Strip” (1981), a short film by Julien Temple (Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten), which gives you an idea of what The Comic Strip’s live show must have been like.