“We don’t really do pranks,” says Bob Mortimer, as he and Vic Reeves sit down with Radio Times, at BBC comedy HQ. It is not a particularly encouraging start, given that the meeting has been set up to discuss exactly that subject. But over the course of the next half an hour it rapidly becomes clear that the comedy duo have been practical jokers all their lives. From classroom japes, to terrifying their own children, the pair have dredged their memories of a lifetime of comedy capers to bring you their favourite practical jokes. “We’re actually quite a couple of pranksters,” says Bob, as the interview comes to an end. “When you think about it, we are, yeah!” replies Vic.
Pretending that you’re dead
Bob Mortimer: Have you ever pretended to be dead, in front of your kids? I’ve done that. In an everyday situation when I know they’re coming into the room, to watch Sponge Bob or whatever. Because they’re young, they do have to poke you at some point. They do get worried.
Vic Reeves: It’s quite a demonic prank.
BM: Well there you go, but it makes them all the happier to see you…
VR: When you rise from the grave?
BM: I know that as a responsible parent, if it ever felt like it was getting out of hand…
VR: If they were on the phone dialing 999?
BM: I would’ve said, “Surprise!” I can remember them starting not to bother to check if I was dead or not, because they realised it was just a prank.
VR: I pretended to be dead in front of a pig once, because I heard that they snuffle you, they try and wake you up, to check if you really are dead. And if you are dead, they eat you, but they like having a little prod first. And they do. But I rose up, before it could eat me.
Pretending that other people are dead
VR: When I was at art school we used to make films, and we had a really very realistic manikin that we threw off a bridge, and a car nearly crashed. We all had to clear off really quickly.
BM: We did the one at school, did anyone do this? Where you get into the classroom above and then you hang some trousers and shoes down so it looks like someone’s hung themselves from the classroom above.
VR: We did that off the top of a silo of a farm I worked at. We got another manikin and stood him at the top of a silo and when the old fellow came back we went, “I’m gonna kill myself,” and threw the manikin off. He thought someone had…these are quite awful pranks, aren’t they!
In the car
BM: One I’ve occasionally done is one where you pull over to someone who’s clearly nice, in your car, and in a very nice voice say, “Excuse me, you wouldn’t know how we could get to, whatever, the Bell Inn, from here, do you?” And then as soon as they start giving you directions, you start smacking them with a newspaper. I’m lying, of course. But pulling ropes across roads, did that one. Not imaginary ropes, real ones.
Radio Times: Wire or rope?
BM: No, rope, on Tollesby Road [where Mortimer grew up, in Middlesborough].
RT: What happened?
BM: Car crash, what do you think’s gonna happen.
RT: I don’t believe you
BM: It’s the absolute truth.
Messing around with food
BM: If you put mashed potato in your kids’ custard, it’s not the most terrible taste, but it’s the most surprising and unacceptable sensation when you don’t know. It would make them be sick. It’s guaranteed. It’s the surprise of it as much of anything.
VR: It sounds quite nice.
BM: Aw man, it’s awful. If you knew it was there it’s fine, it’s nothing, but it’s…
VR: Well in that case I play a prank on my kids every day.
BM: What, do you put mashed potato in everything?
VR: No, just the look on their faces when they eat anything I’ve cooked. They’re trying to get tissues and go like that, and spit it out.
In the school classroom
BM: At school we got a tape recorder and we recorded 20 minutes of silence, then we had the sound of a fly, and then Tourettes-style swearing. We put it in the polystyrene tiles above, and the teacher hadn’t a clue where it was coming from, you’d just suddenly hear it. The teacher’s name was Bill Whittingham, and he was nice. He gave us the chance to climb up and he left the classroom. He said: “I need this to stop, and I’m going out. I hope it’s stopped by the time I get back.”
VR: I got the slipper once. At the bottom of your desk there was a little hole…
BM: Oh, you did ‘look at my penis’?
VR: No, I just put my finger through it. I painted a little face on it, and made a nest. It was like a little bird, and I said to my mate, “Here, look at that,” and he was laughing his head off. And the teacher said, “Something’s obviously very funny in here, would you like to share it.” I said, “If everyone wants to gather round, they can have a look, but I have to do it here.” And they did all have a look, and he’s going, “You all, back to your positions!” He said, “This is not funny at all.” And everyone said, “Yeah it is, it’s really funny.” And he went, “Well see how funny you think this is, then,” and whacked me.