I clearly remember watching Fist of Fun during my early secondary school days when it was broadcast on BBC2 and it filled an area of my TV memory alongside the likes of The Glam Metal Detectives, Friday Night Armistice and The Day Today.
Since then I had always wondered what happened to Fist of Fun as, while it got a second series and a follow-up show (TMWRNJ, or This Morning With Richard Not Judy), it was never repeated and, as such, was very hard to find copies of online.
So it was with some excitement that I received my copies of the DVD release of the show that came about thanks to its masterminds, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, and the DVD production company Go Faster Stripe, who have been releasing less mainstream comedians works for a few years now.
Upon starting it up all was familiar, the set of a seemingly industrial basement, Peter Baynham’s (now a Hollywood scriptwriter) self titled character in a bedsit in the corner and the characters of Lee and Herring compering a show of their stand up and sketches along with various asides with different levels of surrealism and absurdity.
As always with something like this, returning to it with such fond memories was always going to be a bit of a gamble, and certainly there was stuff here I had mis-remembered (in particular appearances by ‘Rod Hull’, though I understand they will come in the second series) but in general it was as good as I had remembered and, despite a couple of duff sketches, generally held up to my memories and expectations.
In general terms the series falls in with a group of similar shows that seemed to typified mid-90s comedy, pre The Fast Show, with one-off sketches delivered by something approaching an ensemble cast with no particular thread and different things each week.
A few of the sketches here which really work very well are Simon Quinlank (the hobbies expert) and the story of Pestilence of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse taking a job as a milkman.
This type of show seems to have disappeared from out screens now as panel games and more fast show inspired repetitive sketch comedy fills the schedules, but I’m happy to say that Fist of Fun lives up to my youthful memories of it and captures a brand of comedy that mixes Monty Python, 80s alternative comedy and what has come since in one package acting as something of a comedy crossroads that certainly deserves more recognition than a little remembered footnote it seems to have become.
While the series itself is, of course, the main part of this DVD set – it also comes along with two and a half discs of extras exploring the work and men behind the series.
For starters each episode has at least one commentary which are clearly recorded by Lee and Herring on their first watch of the shows possibly since the mid-90s which adds a real dynamic to them which matches my feelings of watching the episodes as well as providing some interesting facts about the making of the show and some other stories totally unrelated to the show, but that’s the sort of thing that makes a good commentary for me.
Following on from the commentaries we join Lee and Herring sitting down to go through Richard’s extensive collection of old scripts and magazine and paper cuttings tracing the story of the duo’s early years from university to the getting on TV which does give something of an insight into what led to their mid-90s TV work.
Related directly to the series, there is also the studio rushes from the recording of four of the six episodes which really fall into the category of ‘for the completest’ as they are essentially the unedited shows as they were recorded, though they do contain a few lost gems in the form of sketches that didn’t make the final cut but are still entertaining.
On top of all of this we get an hour-long live show clearly based on Fist of Fun, though not titled such due to copyright reasons, that does a very good job of replicating the feel of the show while also demonstrating Lee and Herring’s live work.