Arguably the most surreal of the pair's work, Vic Reeves Big Night Out was effectively a parody of the variety shows which dominated the early years of television, but which were, by the early 1990s, falling from grace. Vic, introduced as "Britain's Top Light Entertainer and Singer", would sit behind a cluttered desk talking nonsense and introducing the various segments and surreal guests on the show. Vic Reeves Big Night Out is notable as the only time in their career where Vic took the role of host, whilst Bob was consigned to the back stage, appearing every few minutes as either himself or as a strange character. However, the two did receive equal billing in the series credits.
On 3 October 2007, the first episode of Vic Reeves Big Night Out was re-broadcast on More4 as part of Channel 4 at 25, a season of classic Channel 4 programmes shown to celebrate the channel's 25th birthday.
In the mid-1980s, a friend of Jim Moir's gave him the job of running a comedy club in London. Not knowing how to book acts, he decided to put on a show of his own, changing his name every night, but eventually sticking with Vic Reeves and calling the show Vic Reeves' Variety Palladium. In 1986, he moved the show to the Goldsmiths Tavern, New Cross and renamed it Vic Reeves' Big Night Out.
The first shows were attended by a few friends whom Moir had invited to see his performance, one of whom brought then-solicitor Bob Mortimer along with him. Mortimer soon became friendly with Moir, and was invited on the stage to talk about his day at work. He soon became a regular fixture in the show and began to write material with Moir. Through word of mouth, the audience quickly grew to a large number of devotees, including Jools Holland, Jonathan Ross, Charlie Higson, and Paul Whitehouse. After the crowd expansion led to a change of venue to the Albany Empire theatre in 1988, backstage man Fred Aylward joined as the regular character Les. Higson and Whitehouse also had bit parts.
The show sparked the interest of Alan Yentob of the BBC, and Michael Grade of Channel 4, and eventually a deal was struck with Channel 4 to put the live show on television. With the help of Jonathan Ross' production company Channel X, a pilot was produced in 1989 (which has never been broadcast or released) where the three-hour show was cut down to 25 minutes. The first series began in 1990, and the show ran for two series and one New Year's Eve special, totalling 15 episodes.
The series spawned numerous popular surreal characters.
Played by Fred Aylward, Les was Vic's bald-headed, dribbling, mute, lab coat-wearing assistant. During each show, Vic would reveal a new fact about Les - most notably, that he cannot help but raise a smile whenever he sees a spirit level and that he has a terrible fear of chives (later revealed not to be a fear of the chives themselves but the soil in which they grow). Les also had a fixation with mangoes and was later accompanied by a sycophantic little robot called Dylan.
The Man With The Stick is a man (played by Mortimer) dressed in a large paper helmet which covers his face. He also wields a long stick, the end of which holds an object obscured by a bag. At the point when the Man With The Stick appears, Vic shouts "What do we say when we see the man with the stick?" to which the audience replies "What's on the end of the stick, Vic?" Vic would ask him if he is going to reveal what he has on the end of his stick, usually the Man With The Stick refuses - but did occasionally reveal it.
The Man With The Stick would come out each week to a fanfare, and then proceed to talk casually with Vic about a number of drawings on his paper helmet. The helmet "graffiti" would act as a pictorial guide to what he'd been investigating during that week. The item on the end of the stick was usually revealed at the very end of each programme.
Over the course of the second series it is revealed that The Man With The Stick has sold his children to Vic, and, since they are still under contract, he is unable to get them back. Vic uses them as a means to various ends, such as trading them for a car, signing them up to the territorial army and selling their souls to the devil. This gradually plunges the Man With The Stick into a terrible depression. At the end of the final episode, the Man With The Stick drunkenly storms the stage brandishing a gun and shoots Vic and Graham Lister.
The Man With The Stick often mentioned his best friend Terry, who invariably subjected him to some horrible experience or humiliation.
Appearing in series two, Vic and Bob's Swiss counterparts who wear only their underpants, white perms and very large fake chins. Each week they would be seen on their own parallel 'Swiss Night Out' pondering over a specific decision (for instance, whether or not to inject ink into a battenberg cake), whilst thoughtfully rubbing their chins. The use of Swiss as a descriptor continued in other projects for the character Swiss Toni.
Played by Bob in a black curly wig, brown mac and horn-rimmed glasses, Lister is described as an acquaintance and admirer of doctors, dentists and architects. He is Reeves' arch-rival and sour-lipped foil who each week would enter the Novelty Island segment of the show with increasingly pathetic acts. He would then share a heated argument with Vic (whom he regularly referred to as 'The Fop'). Arguably his most memorable act was "Lard for Laughs" where he dropped lard onto a pile of salt, then pushed a block of lard through a cereal packet with the face of "pop star" Mickey Rourke on it.
Played by Bob - wearing Lister's wig inside out - Judge Lionel Nutmeg would preside over "That's Justice", a game which involved a member of the audience being tried for a random and nonsensical crime. The punishment is decided by spinning the hairy Wheel of Justice, which Vic would then move until the wheel landed on the punishment he liked the most making the wheel a useless means of choosing a punishment.
Dr Richard Slater and Dr Richard Slater, who "smell to get well" and prescribe different smells in order to cure weird ailments. Although it is thought that they are not related, both of them wear white jumpsuits, have identical "Titian" hair, speak in the same manner and have the same name.
A monkey puppet with the face of Morrissey, operated by Vic and voiced by Bob. Morrissey the Consumer Monkey would often come on to give advice on shoddy or unsafe consumer goods. Usually these items were manufactured and sold by Reeves & Mortimer Products, and the pair would be forced to make a hasty cover-up.
At the time it was reported that Morrissey took offence to this character, much to the delight of Vic and Bob.
Played by Vic and Bob, the Stotts are redundant, jittery, bickering Northern brothers with black insulation tape moustaches, poorly-applied bald-wigs, big silly clown shoes and high-pitched voices. For reasons best kept to himself, Davey (Vic) wears a kilt. Donald (Bob) is the slightly more sensible one in a grey leather jacket, but he is prone to "antique incidents." The pair are also frequently startled. They have many talents including presenting talk shows (interviewing each other), game shows (including party games such as "Pass the Fat," Read the Anthony Trollope Novel" and "Guess What's On Les's Back") and doing magic shows. Usually however, they just give up and leave the set before their spot is supposed to finish.
The Stotts were one of the very few characters from Vic Reeves Big Night Out to return in later Reeves & Mortimer series'. They appeared in the second series of The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer as talk show hosts again, often interviewing celebrities such as Sting and Damon Hill.
A pair of genial, bearded, anorak-wearing ramblers who tell amusing anecdotes and share their knowledge of the world of rambling with the audience, constantly assuring them that "it's not all walking." One (Bob) is clearly having an affair with the other's wife.
Greg Mitchell, the "gorgeous sandy-coloured labrador", was a puppet dog with a completely naïve understanding of the world. He would often talk about something he had just done, in a high-pitched and rather fey voice. He would, however, suddenly realise that he hadn't thought it through and drop into a guttural Cockney bellow, shouting "my wife's gonna KILL me!!!." Greg would also reappear in The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer.
Played by Vic and Bob wearing masks made of carpet swatches. They would sit in Les's Lunch Club and make increasingly outrageous claims, such as being responsible for "colouring in the black bits on Friesian cows with a special Biro", or "filling in the coloured bits in pilau rice" before accusing each other of being a "lying get". While this is going on, Les would serve both of them tea whilst genteel music played in the background.
On the "Vic Reeves Big Night Out Tour" the Living Carpets were played to two "imposters" but were voiced by Vic and Bob who were stood backstage and would enter the stage at the end of the act of kick the "imposters" off stage.
Two men (Vic and Bob) who came on in ridiculous leotards, silly wigs and big false teeth, wielding bits of wood, buckets, hoops with tomatoes attached to them and big placards announcing such things as "Squirrel in bucket of hot trout = racial harmony." The pair would just crash and fall around the place, being ridiculously clumsy and not making it at all clear what "point" they were supposed to be making. By the end of their "performance" the set would be in disarray and Les would have to clean up very quickly. While these characters baffled the audience and even the show's producers, Vic and Bob believe them to be the best characters on the show.
Vic and Bob's performance art group, who perform "The Facelessness of Bureaucracy". They put on Sean Connery or Jimmy Hill masks, one wields either talcum powder or a beehive and the other a pair of swimming trunks or a bra, and enact a little dance to some traditional jazz punctuated by the sound of a breeze, to illustrate "a pensioner being attacked by some police officers" etc.
A jumper-wearing, rather dull but highly strung newsagent and tobacconist, who doesn't stock Curly Wurlies as "they are far too elaborate". He is in cahoots with Lister, and they are both the co-founders of a consumer-product safety and hygiene standards group, NIPS. Mr. Dennis gets easily riled and at one point goes on a violent rampage around the set, punching Les and knocking Lister out.
Novelty Island was a bizarre parody of talent shows like New Faces, where the so-called Acts Of Tomorrow showcase their various ridiculous talents from the centre of a small paddock, with Vic acting as host. Generally, there would be three acts, one of which would inevitably be Graham Lister, and Vic would make no effort to hide his disgust at Lister's turns. Novelty Island also saw such memorable characters as Mr Wobbly Hand, Judith Grant, the Slitherer, the Hoxton Hockler and Wavy Davey make appearances.
After a devilish build-up by Vic, Judge Nutmeg wheels on to the stage in a mobile bench, and Vic hauls a random member of the audience on stage to try them for a set of ridiculous trumped-up charges, such as "staring at a fixed point, causing terrible dryness" or "wringing out a flannel in a branch of Thomas Cooks, one of the most respected travel agents on the high street!". When the accused is inevitably found guilty, Vic spins the Wheel of Justice - after combing its hair - and the audience sing "Spin, Spin, Spin the Wheel of Justice, see how fast the Bastard turns". An equally ludicrous punishment is then handed down (e.g. "One year being adored by the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar"). For one memorable week, Judge Nutmeg changed the format of the show and tried for a more liberal approach; the Wheel of Conciliation, where he tried to solve the marital problems of a 'separated' couple from the audience, who, incidentally, had never met before.
A one-off reunion show of the Big Night Out was performed at the old Raymond Revuebar, now the Too2Much club, in London. It was filmed by Channel X, although there has been no news of what will happen to this recording. There is no sign that this will lead to a fully-fledged reunion tour though if it is a success then that may change. Vic has mentioned that he would like to do more live work, and that the return of the Big Night Out live is not out of the question.
When Big Night Out made it to DVD in 2005, many audiences were disappointed to find edits made just to remove the advert break boards. Along with these edits, was also a missing episode. The New Year special from 1991 was missing when the DVD claimed that it was the complete programme. The videos originally released in 1990 & 1991 were given the rating of PG by the BBFC but the new DVD release of series 1 & 2 were given the rating of "12" by the BBFC. Channel 4 made a mistake on the cover art of the DVD which displays "15" as the certificate.
Additional: As a result of the edits, some of the gags that straddled the commercial breaks are missing. Examples. In Episode 1 Series 1, Vic announces that he's going to have a pint before the break, and pours one at his desk. After the break, his desk is full of empty pint glasses, and he's drunk. He then goes off to have a [[piss|Jimmy. Later in the same series, judgement on the Novelty Island acts is concealed in a giant kebab, which is consumed over the ad break. When the show returns the winner is announced. In the edited version, it cuts from the Island to the kebab which has mysteriously appeared on Vic's desk.