I decided to start a series of articles where I make a case not just for a comedy series, but for one episode in particular, an episode that’s so great, so consistently funny, and more often than not iconic that nobody could deny it. It’s an episode that encompasses the essence of the sitcom or comedy series, one that you’d show a friend to introduce them to the show, and in general makes for a perfect showcase of truly great British comedy. Let’s just say that if British Comedy was on the national curriculum (and it bloody should be) then this episode would be on the syllabus.
This time I’ve selected something from the alternative comedy scene, The Mighty Boosh episode – The Legend of Old Gregg.
The Mighty Boosh, the iconic BBC3 sitcom written by and starring Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt and co-produced by Steve Coogan, brought an almost Rock and Roll vibe to the comedy scene. It spawned a series of sell out tours and made household names of its stars, in particular, Noel Fielding who is now best known to a lot of people as the host of The Great British Bake Off. Over ten years later, The Mighty Boosh hasn’t lost any of its comedic power and that’s especially true of ‘The Legend of Old Gregg’, the episode that created a catchphrase of sorts “I’m old Greeeeeggg!”.
In this episode Vince and Howard are driven out of town by an angry mob after a bad gig. They head out to a remote fishing village where Howard is keen to soak up the culture and meet the locals at the pub. However, he becomes increasingly enraged when they go out fishing and he can’t catch any fish, unluckily for Howard when he finally makes a big catch it’s the half-man half-fish (although some say it’s more of a 40/60 split, whatever the case he’s one fishy bastard), It’s Old Gregg.
So, why is this episode so iconic? Not since Vic and Bob or The Young Ones had a show with such surreal humour achieved mainstream success. In the cases of Vic and Bob and The Mighty Boosh the surrealness is routed in one of the fundamental building blocks of comedy - the double act and more specifically in The Mighty Boosh the straight man/funny man dynamic.
Strip away everything that feels surreal about The Mighty Boosh and what we are left with, certainly in this episode, is a plot line of almost Laurel and Hardy comedic simplicity. Our double act goes on a fishing trip, our straight man, Howard, is enraged when our funny man, Vince, catches all the fish. Howard then gets himself in danger and has to be rescued. It's a classic formula that acts as a guiding hand to lead us into the surreal world of the show and in my opinion, that’s the key to The Mighty Boosh’s general success.
This episode in particular is brilliantly written. It’s long been thought that a sitcom really hits its stride in its second series, and although I adore the first series it’s clear to see that The Mighty Boosh broadened its horizons for the second series. The characters moved outside the confines of the Zoo and went on slightly more bold adventures, pushing the boundaries that bit further.
Old Gregg is at the heart of this episode’s popularity, he became an iconic character for a reason. Take the scene here where Howard meets him on the boat. Every line in that scene almost without exception is instantly quotable, “you ever drink baileys from a shoe?” “It’s attached to my head motherlicker!”; It’s a rare thing that a character who only ever made one short appearance could have had such an impact and he even managed to create his own catchphrase.
A strong supporting cast is usually key in terms of an iconic episode, here Mighty Boosh regular, Rich Fulcher and James Bachman (Mitchell & Webb/Bleak Expectations) offer excellent support as the two rival sailors. “Two maggot bhunas!” is another one of the great lines of the episode. It’s the tiny comic details that particularly shine, prime examples of this are the entire sailor band wearing one jumper, or the call back to an earlier gag of Rich Fulcher’s character glueing shells to everything, then later we see Vince picking up a shell covered telephone.
Such casual wackiness as the naan bread man popping up when Rich Fulcher’s sailor character tells everyone to gather round, “Not you Naan bread” hadn’t been seen since The Young Ones. When you think about the impact The Mighty Boosh has had, the comparison makes sense. The Mighty Boosh enjoyed a similar cult success, just like that of a rock and roll band or a punk rock movement, which some comedy fans may even have found a bit intimidating at the time, but now it’s looked back upon as a modern classic that shook up the British comedy scene.
There have been many other iconic episodes of The Mighty Boosh of course, any episode involving The Hitcher may rank highly among fans. In my opinion the greatest joke in The Mighty Boosh comes from the episode, ‘Electro’ from the first series. The classic moment where ‘The Spirit of jazz’ hadn’t realised that his hat was on fire is hard to top. Personally, I’ve always adored the episode, ‘The Nightmare of Milky Joe’, but in truth, you can’t really beat ‘The Legend of Old Gregg’, a masterful combination of tight classic sitcom writing with unique surreal presentation, that sums up The Mighty Boosh in general, but it’s best showcased in this episode. Watch it here on the BBC iPlayer.
Written by Rhianna Evans