Opinion: I Watched Bottom Again And It's Not Sagging

Opinion: I Watched Bottom Again And It's Not Sagging

An opinion piece about the sitcom Bottom recently appeared online in which the writer said they found it quite hard to watch in 2020. Long-time fan of the series, comedian Ash Preston, springs to its defence below.

 

I’ve always been wary of people who don’t like the comedy series Bottom. I’ve never quite understood it, like the stock market or why my Nana bought loads of copies of Candle in the Wind 1997. But in a generation where a heap of content revolves around examining comedy’s past, and subsequently slagging it off, it took longer than I expected to see a piece in another publication calling Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson’s sitcom ‘problematic.’

Bottom, which ran on BBC2 from 1991 - 1995, is probably the most nihilist sitcom ever screened. On the surface for detractors, a gallery of jokes about bums, swearing and exaggerated violence. Underneath, an unique dish of vaudeville, classic situation comedy that traces back to the days of Hancock and a bleak window into the existential boredom of existence. If that sounds a bit too chin-stroking, basically Beckett with nob gags.  

Focusing on the first episode ‘Smells’, two particular jokes are examined. The most prominent being Richie’s (Mayall) offer to ‘cure’ a pair of women who pretend to be lesbians to swat the advances of him and Eddie (Edmondson). Now obviously with hindsight and more effort to rightly highlight inclusivity, this can be seen through today’s eyes as incorrect, sexist and offensive. Today it’s rightly accurate that a line like that would be cut and if not a Twitter hashtag wouldn’t be far off. But in describing this line as problematic, then you are ignoring the world and rules in which these characters exist. 

The world of Bottom is a wholly miserable place. Not one single regular character who appears is in any way likeable or redeemable. In the two leads, Richie is a self-loathing virgin with a streak of sadistic perversion and Eddie Hitler is a violent alcoholic who drinks bleach. They live in Hammersmith, which while today might be more appealing to trust fund kids, was a starkly different area in the post-Thatcher era. Richie and Eddie are abjectly horrible people, worthy of nothing. But that is what makes their ‘problematic’ jokes so incredibly funny. They are so pathetic as humans in this hermetically sealed world they live, that it is perfectly normal to be grossly offensive. 

The characters wouldn’t work in the slightest without their crass and puerile obsession with ‘birds.’ When you factor in that every other facet of the show is so extremely exaggerated with the over the top violence, to the shows miserable drab sets, Richie believing it’s absolutely possible to ‘cure’ lesbians is a logical line to demonstrate why the character is so inherently unlikeable. Even if he is played by Rik Mayall and bloody hilarious.  

The other contentious joke sees Richie being threatened by Clive Mantle in a pub, calling himself ‘a mere loony’ and doing what you’d unfortunately remember from school as a ‘spaz face.’ Described as ‘quite offensive’, obviously it’s not something anyone should be doing today. But then you have to factor the entire gag's structure. Far from a joke where the mentally ill or disabled are the punchline, in essence you have an eccentric cowardly weasel seeing a way out of getting his head kicked in. It’s a variant of the Blackadder going ‘mad’ joke from ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ for starters.

The triumph of Bottom is they’re sick, gonzo weirdos who NEVER win. Example: If the show was structured in the way of 1969’s ‘Curry and Chips’ (Spike Milligan browns up as an Asian doing that accent), in which racial minorities are the punchlines of white characters, then Bottom would completely fall apart. But it doesn’t as the creators wrote the show with the intent of making their unpleasant creations the shows foil. 

Maybe this is futile and we should just enjoy comedy for its time and place. As we’re stuck inside for the foreseeable, a sitcom about two bitter self-loathing misanthropes who loathe each other, but rely on their relationship because the other option is loneliness is wonderfully apt at the moment. All 18 episodes are available on Netflix, so throw on a smashing blouse and completely lose yourself into the mindless sex and violence of Rik and Ade’s finest work.    

Buy Bottom on DVD here.

Ash Preston is a stand-up comedian based in Manchester. For details please contact [email protected], Facebook (Ash Preston Comedian) or Twitter (@theashpreston)

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