Ben Goldacre once said said that during his time doing 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People, he was intrigued by what the comics said about the comedy venue having as much to do with the number of laughs tallied up as the act itself. Take Lee & Herring’s 1995-1996 sketch show Fist of Fun, for example. Season 1 was shot in what looked like a dark, dirty basement crowded with storage boxes and old tat. It was abnormal for television at that time, but it worked. For season 2, the comedians returned to telly to find themselves on a brightly lit stage with a luminescent white backdrop and slick floors. The audience sat in conference chairs under bright studio lights. Not exactly the ideal situation for laughter. What’s more, Lee & Herring didn’t alter their material to fit the shape of their new set, so while it seemed natural that a rat-loving homeless man would be camped out in the corner of the basement, to see Peter Baynham* play his same unhygienic character in a modern television studio is jarring. But maybe that adds to the humor.
*as Lee describes him in How I Escaped my Certain Fate, “the merchant seaman and Pot Noddle Goth Peter Baynham, who eventually wrote the Borat movie, and then moved to Hollywood to grow his hair.”
The returning supporting cast includes Kevin Eldon, stealing the show more than ever; lots of Sally Phillips, who Rich says they’d broken up by season 2; Rebecca Front; and Alistair McGowan. Looking at the A-list, Lee & Herring today (on the commentary track) note that all of their co-stars have become more famous than they have. Then again, with Katy Brand, Rufus Hound, and James Corden in the crowd, so has their audience.
Kevin Eldon is back as hobbyist Simon Quinlank, who is busy collecting old men and bullying trainspotters. He also dons a second reoccuring guise, that of a terribly fake Rod Hull. Now, the reason it’s terribly fake is because this character was born on radio on a day Eldon had a cold and so couldn’t do a Rod Hull impression. Instead, he adapted a screechy voice, which for some reason was carried on to the TV version. Aside from his affinity for Jell-o, he is nothing like Rod Hull, not with orange hair, not with plastic arm, not with false chin. Delightfully, the real Rod Hull shows up in episode 6 to confront the fake Rod Hull. Rod Hull’s death in 1999, mixed with Richard Herring’s lack of tact, makes for an awkward commentary track between Herring and Eldon. In fact, Hull had died falling off a roof around the same time Lee & Herring were filming This Morning with Richard, Not Judy, which had a series of Rod Hull sketches already in the can that they had to scrap. Still, Eldon revives his fake Rod Hull character (and Simon Quinlank) for the Fist of Fun DVD commentary.
The Pied Piper, generally accepted as the best Lee & Herring sketch, appears in season 2, as does the catch phrase, “You want a moon on a stick!” We are treated to The Prodigal Son, a sequel to the “ahhh” Jesus sketch from season 1. There are also new reoccurring sketches like the Hollywood film producers, where we learn Lee does his best acting drunk, and the teachers sketch where you can catch a very young Danny Mays. This is not without post-modern banter between sketches, which deconstruct the formula of the double act and take the piss out of the public lottery (which they actually received monetary contributions to, despite being a satire). Rich even gives a speech to his future wife, which is uncomfortable considering Richard is engaged by the time he’s doing the commentary. Ultimately, though, the jokes are references to things that only people who are home during the day understand (there are references to the Ricola commercials in multiple episodes), and the now parted double act agree that season 2 had not enough of the good stuff and too much of the stuff that should have been left out, but with one or two good bits in each episode. So how’s that for a self-endorsement?
The Fist of Fun Series 2 DVD, available from Go Faster Stripe, is as much facsimile as it is TV show. The fabricated double act performance had Herring as the chirpy one and Lee as the cynical one, stances neither have ever really shed despite the fact that it was almost the other way around. You can also hear in Lee’s later solo work the echos of Herring’s “Oh, Stew!” protests in Lee’s imagined collective voice of his not-so-cynical audience. Since all six episodes and seven commentary tracks fit on one disc, that leaves three full discs of studio tapes (alternative takes), audio sketches, and CD-ROM goodies.