Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pathos and Humour: David Bowie and Ricky Gervais

(David Bowie as himself in 'Extras' and as 'Jareth the Goblin King' in 'Labyrinth')

After all that Swinburne, I think a good laugh is in order. One of my favourite recent shows is 'Extras', a series created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. David Bowie has been one of my idols for years and when I discovered that he was to appear in an episode of 'Extras' in the second season, I was very eager to see it. In fact, it is one of the most hilarious scenes in television history. Ricky Gervais and his best friend Maggie find David Bowie in a local pub and behave as fans usually do.

Ricky, however, effectively digs his own grave when he then confides to David Bowie that he is 'an entertainer too.'
David Bowie: What do you do?'
Ricky: I'm in a sitcom.
Maggie: It's called 'When the Whistle Blows'. Have you seen it?
David Bowie: I haven't, no. Is it any good?'
(Voice of a helpful heckler responding): No, it's sh-t!

Ricky (or Andy as his character is named), then tries to explain to Bowie that the sitcom has become a bit of an embarrassment, that he had a far better concept initially but that the B.B.C. 'chased ratings' and made it into a show to suit 'the lowest common denominator'.

He then mutters: I think I've sold out, to be honest, but it's difficult, isn't it, to keep the integrity... when you're going for that first...

(And as he opens his soul to a supposedly sympathetic listener, Bowie begins to sing.)

Bowie: Little fat man who sold his soul
Ricky (utterly taken aback): The little...
Bowie: Little fat man who sold his dream

(Bowie now turns to the piano and strikes up a tune)

Chubby little loser..

Chubby little loser,
National joke,

Ricky: No, not chubby little loser...

(Bowie sees this as a strictly artistic criticism of his lyrics)

Bowie: Little fat man who sold his dream,
Pathetic little fat man,
No one's bloody laughing,
The clown that no one laughs at,
They all just wish he'd die...

(Bowie now works with the concept a little)

Bowie: They wish he'd take his own life

(It goes from bad to worse now as Bowie struggles to find an even more precise definition of the pathetic loser sitting before him.)

Bowie: He's so depressed at being useless
The fat man takes his own life

Ricky (rather desperately): No, no

Bowie: He's so depressed at being hated,
Fatty takes his own life...

Ricky (outraged): Fatty, Fatso?

(Maggie now gets into the act with her usual lack of sensitivity, debating on the virtues of 'Fatty' as compared with 'Fatso')

Ricky (sarcastically): No, let's go with Fatso

(Bowie, caught up in his creative energy, sees this as encouragement.)

Bowie: Fatso takes his own lfie
He blows his bloated face off

(Then improves upon it)
Bowie: Blows his stupid face off

(At this point, the song comes together for Bowie and he kicks it into high gear.)

Bowie (with great enthusiasm): He sold his soul for a shot at fame,
He's got no style
He's got no grace

He's banal and facile
He's a fat waste of space.

(This is delivered in a very up-beat style and tempo.)

Ricky (with infinite sarcasm): Yeah, everybody sing that last line!

Of course, the crowd is immune to the nuance of sarcasm and belts out obligingly:

He's banal and facile
He's banal and facile

Bowie: See his pug-nosed face...
Ba ba ba ba

Crowd: See his pug-nosed face
Crowd: See his pug-nosed face

(The crowd is swinging now with the refrain.)

Bowie: Little fat man with a pug-nosed face
He's a little fat man with a pug-nosed face...

This is not absolutely verbatim as I do not own this episode, alas, but it reduces me to helpless laughter each time I have seen it. It is absolutely brilliant. The terrible cruelty of Bowie, who apparently has no idea of the possible effect of his ad-lib on the poor man who is at the nadir of his own self-respect and confidence, is absolutely beautiful in its rhythm and precision. Obviously there is more than a small element of the absurd in the scene but there is a poignancy to it as well. I may be biased as I always have enjoyed Ricky Gervais' humour and never ceased to admire Bowie, from his early performances as Ziggy in music and 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' in film, through his incredible (if cameo) appearance in 'Labyrinth' and now this wildly amusing comedy.

Perhaps it is troubling that I can laugh hysterically at a depiction of cruelty of this nature on television, but it really is so far removed from reality that, like many episodes in the Simpsons, it is so utterly ridiculous as to allow one to escape any and all moral considerations and simply ENJOY the moment.

Note on 'Labyrinth':

Incidentally, for those who appreciate 'cult classics', the character of Jareth the Goblin King has much to offer. Incredibly seductive, the Goblin King is almost irresistable in his evil allure...

He declares: 'I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.'

To the girl whose little brother he is determined to 'take' into his kingdom, Jareth says: Sarah, beware. I have been generous, up till now. I can be cruel.
Sarah: Generous? What have you done that's generous?
Jareth: EVERYTHING! Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for YOU! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me. Isn't that generous?'

Of course, it IS David Bowie and it is possible that the character would have been less than half as attractive if played by a different actor.

No comments: