Saturday, January 29

Elvis meets the Evil Dead as comedy regresses to the VHS era | Comedy

TThe movie was a sequel to one of the disgusting original videos, so what better format for a stage show that pays tribute to it? Comedy distributors Go Faster Stripe have released Rob Kemp’s cult musical comedy The Elvis Dead, based on Evil Dead II, on VHS. I have a copy, its thick rectangular case is a Proustian cupcake that transports me back to the 80s. Indelible memories of, uh, rewinding and fast-forwarding things incessantly, and trying to hit record at the right time to join episodes 1 and 2 of the last Doctor Who.

If the VHS format is remembered for little longer, it is remembered for the ugly panic of the videos earlier in that decade, when a nation trembled at the corrupting power of the Zombie Holocaust, Eaten Alive! and Bambi goes crazy with his drill and sex. (The latest courtesy of Vyvyan from The Young Ones.) Even if the panic subsided around the time Evil Dead II was released in 1987, it’s a nice touch from the Cardiff team to offer Kemp’s show in retro video format, with a digital download. available simultaneously. And it’s not a bolt out of nowhere. Earlier this year, in an attempt to make up for Covid-era losses, Monkey Barrel Comedy released standup sets by John Kearns, Olga Koch, and Ari Eldjárn on vinyl LP.

Are we witnessing the first signs of the flight of comedy since modernity? You wouldn’t blame him: there’s little to love in 2020. But I’m not going to hold my breath for Jack Whitehall on reel to reel, or Rob Beckett on wax cylinder, anytime soon. These old-format releases are more likely to reflect the resurgence of vintage technology more broadly, but also the ways that comedy continues to expand and become marketable to different audiences. Once the cultivation garbage dwarf, he now has prestige and is collectible. It also has acts that appeal to the distinctive tastes of those who hog vinyl, or get sentimental watching horror movies on VHS or, better yet, Betamax.

John Kearns on the Edinburgh Strip in 2017.
John Kearns on the Edinburgh Strip in 2017. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod / The Guardian

You can easily imagine a Venn diagram linking vinyl collectors with fans of John Kearns’ comedy. There’s something old-fashioned about him – he’s always compared to Tony Hancock. There is a nostalgic momentum behind the vinyl / VHS renaissance, which Kearns’ work might sound like. But he is also a comedian who rewards devotion. Your commitment to the character is enriched with each show that happens: the more you know him, the more fun you will find him. You can see why a fan who has made that trip with Kearns might want to reflect it on an act of possession and a fetish object like a vinyl LP.

Which is one piece with some of the broader drivers behind the vinyl resurgence. In an era of virtual experiences, when everything is out of sight and out of reach in the cloud, we again appreciate the pleasure of analog technology and things. Even the least materialistic of digital natives would experience a touch of joy, surely, upon receiving Kemp’s Elvis Dead via mail, in three dimensions, rather than via a download bar in the corner of their screen. Whatever the format, it’s certainly fun to revisit this cult hit of 2017, in which West Midlander retells the cabin-in-the-woods gore festival using the music of Elvis Presley, with adjusted lyrics. (“We’re caught in a trap / We can’t get out / Because the trees would kill us, darling …”)

“It’s a niche as shit,” Kemp admits at one point in the recording, and therein lies the problem. Audiences lovingly identify with their niches and will be willing to invest in totems, even in almost obsolete formats, for that identity. If you’re a horror movie buff with a shelf of nasty videos gathering dust and a soft spot for DIY comedy, your Christmas list has just one more item.

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