Bottom 5: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts
Show type: Tour
Should you ever find yourself feeling smug about the sophisticated British sense of humour, just take a look at the phenomenal success of Bottom.
A dozen years after this modest TV series first aired, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson are still selling out some of the biggest theatres in Britain with their relentless tide of toilet gags, spectacular ultra-violence and cocky, sweary tirades.
Bottom is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. They've been doing this for more than half their lives - from their Manchester student days, to the 20th Century Coyote act that helped launch alternative comedy and through to The Young Ones, their aggressive double act has remained a constant.
At its best, their comedy has transcended its limitations. When Bottom excelled, it was because the base gags and exaggerated slapstick formed just some of the texture of the lives of two self-deluded losers trapped by their own shortcomings.
But nowadays, the franchise is fast running out of ideas and these easy laughs are an end to themselves. Even though the duo are now well into their mid-forties, any attempt at being big and clever has been abandoned in favour of a lazy stream of easy double-entendres.
Much of the strength of the original idea was that our two anti-heroes were trapped in their festering Hammersmith slum. Now they've discovered a Dr Who style time-machine - inevitably designed around a toilet, inevitably called the Turdis and inevitably powered by masturbation - they can go anywhere and anytime they want.
Not that they ever do get anywhere - much like their comedy - but the feeling that these two hopeless characters are imprisoned in their environment has certainly been lost.
No matter, every swear word, every pyrotechnic explosion, every thwack of head against fist and every comic-book testicle-squishing is greeted with a huge cheer. But the biggest ovation is when they temporarily slip back into their Young Ones alter ego - clearly new material isn't what's in demand.
No, this is more like a pantomime, with the audience simply demonstrating their Pavlovian responses. A fart is funny, as is mere mention of the word 'pants'. When Rik and Ade drop in the local references, you can imagine how wild the crowd go.
Their observations about the town - in this case Croydon, though it hardly matters - are that its inhabitants like to get drunk, the one-way system is a bit crap and the shopping centre even more so. What painstaking research they must have done to come up with these bland, universal assertions.
But the Bottom boys have obviously given up any pretence of doing anything other than giving the audience exactly what they want, even if it's pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Very successful it's proving, too, with this capacity audience offering a standing ovation at the end, as a pair of giant Y-fronts dominates the stage. How very apt that the audience ends up applauding such enormous pants.
Date of review: Oct 2002