Quality entertainment doesn’t always get embraced by the masses the first time around.
‘Seinfeld’ didn’t get huge or even good ratings during its first season. The brilliant ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ a Judd Apatow production, which launched the careers of James Franco and Seth Rogen, lasted just one season but now has a huge cult following.
That’s a similar story for The Rutles. When the act, which parodied the Beatles during the mid-70, hit the airwaves, few got the gag, which was conceived by British humorists Neil Innes and Eric Idle.
“Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Innes said. “I’m proud that when The Rutles appeared on prime-time television, it was dead last (in the ratings). The Rutles was 65 out of 65 shows. No one picked up on it. I think people missed out on it because it wasn’t that long after The Beatles broke up and people still hoped they would get back together. Fans still took it quite hard that the band was no more.”
However, after visionary Fab John Lennon was assassinated in December of 1980, the possibility of a Beatles reunion was over.
Within half-a-decade the Rutles took off when it went to video. “By that time people got the joke,” Innes said. “The Rutles finally received their due.”
Innes, 66, a cerebral musician-humorist, who will appear Saturday at the Tin Angel, is an unsung British bard. Innes wasn’t just a vital part of the often-hilarious Rutles, he was a member of the Bonzo Dog Band and worked with Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
However, his work with the Rutles remains as solid today as it was during its release. Innes didn’t just add humorous touches to such amusing cuts as ‘Number One,’ ‘Ouch’ and ‘Piggy in the Middle.’ Innes , who portrayed Ron Nasty, the Rutles’ John Lennon character, also wrote and produced songs that were so Beatle-esque that they could have been mistaken for lost tracks penned by Lennon and McCarthy.
“When I wrote the songs I knew they were similar but also different at the same time,” Innes said. “The production is where much is copied. You wear the clothes (of the Beatles) and that was much of it right there. But what helps make comedy work is that you understand the situation and with the Rutles, people finally understood the situation.”
But Innes was more than a Rutle. His work with the Bonzo Dog Band, may have been the finest of an enviable career. With the exception of perhaps the Mothers of Invention, there was no ‘60s band that was as funny as the clever Bonzo Dog Band, which were adept at delivering visual gags and offering unpredictable madcap humor.
“We all met at art school in London,” Innes said. “We met by chance and it went from there. It was a start in comedy and music and it’s something that I never stopped. It’s been a great career.”