“The pasty, jowly, chubby guy -- the American guy who plays the zoo boss and who’s always wearing too-tight pants suits and rubbing his nipples in ‘The Mighty Boosh.’” That was the only way I could describe Rich Fulcher, one half of the duo who make ‘Snuff Box,’ a sick/corny/sometimes very funny, “dark” and highly allusive 2006 British sketch comedy show now out on DVD in America. If you have no idea what “The Mighty Boosh” is and if the nipple-rubbing and pudge sound off-putting, well, you’ve been warned. But if you’re tuned into the murky vortex of absurd, broad and intentionally low-budget comedy series like “The IT Crowd” and “That Mitchell Webb Look,” (and the excellently bizarre “Mighty Boosh”) and, to a lesser extent, shows like “Black Books” and “Spaced,” you may -- may -- enjoy “Snuff Box.”
In addition to Fulcher, who plays characters that mix weird, annoying, middle-aged slacker whininess, a crazy foul mouth and psychopathic gleam, there’s also Matt Berry -- also familiar from “The Mighty Boosh,” but perhaps best known here for his role as the blustery sexist boss on “The IT Crowd.” Like his role on “The IT Crowd,” Berry plays a pompous, gruff, boozing and sneering lout.
Like trying to describe Fulcher, trying to explain the show is a little bit of a challenge. It’s stitched together with little skits that weave recurring elements throughout each episode -- there’s a touch of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and “Portlandia” in the approach. But the humor is possibly more surreal than either of those, in places. There are hat tips to the mod-paranoid style of “The Prisoner” (an influential late-60s British psychological-spy-drama series), scenes at a posh leather-bound gentlemen’s/hangman’s club - complete with time-travelling portals -- evoke Jeeves and Wooster as well as Sherlock Holmes and “The Wild West.” An opening sequence of cold white corridors acts as a framing mechanism while quoting the vast and spooky empty hallway sequences in Kubrick’s The Shining. There’s some Tarantino-esque black humor involving spattered blood and executions, too.
The humor goes from Benny Hill style T&A (topless 19th century prostitutes in the time-travel scenes), to David Lynch freakiness (sped-up film, backwards dialogue and colored filters over paranormal tidbits), and back to cornball exaggeration, potty mouth, crude-crude sexual humor, awkward silences and over-the-top gestures. Fulcher has said there was “very, very little adult supervision” in the making of the series.
The bits are hit-and-miss. But one sketch involving a DVD guitar-tutorial is painfully funny, and frighteningly weird. (Fans of “shredding” videos will appreciate this.) And another -- more goodness for music nerds -- that spoofs on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” (a beloved British music show) and the masturbatory excesses of prog rock is perhaps only funny if you get the references. (Fans of The IT Crowd will appreciate a cameo from its star Richard Ayoade, who also directed and wrote the excellent Submarine.) And, speaking of masturbatory excesses, one skit involving a young Matt’s getting caught wanking off over a map of Scotland (Dundee gets besmirched!!) is particularly outrageous.
Approach with caution.
Cult British Comedy, Snuff Box, Now Available on DVD in U.S.
Snuff Box: nasty business.