Starman As Funnyman: Remembering The Funny Side Of Bowie

14 January 2016 | 12:30 pm | Liz Giuffre

"While we were obsessed with his otherworldliness, we forgot his humanness and his wicked sense of humour."

Bowie was last in Australia for the
tour in 2004. Mind you, that's the last time we know of. He was a sneaky boy — he could have turned up a couple of times since to see the fireworks over the Harbour or have a bevvie at Molly's place after the footy. The record company had set up a press conference at a flashy hotel near the water and there was much reverent anticipation in the room as we gathered waiting for him to arrive. There was an audible collective gasp as he appeared on the balcony for a brief photo shoot, and when Bowie finally came into the room we, the apparently professional music press, silently lost our collective shit.

The only person not taking things very seriously was Bowie. The more the Grown Up Music Reporters tried to ask him artfully probing questions about extraterrestrial musical influence, the more he seemed determined to be (respectfully) silly. Somehow noticing the hierarchy, when another 'So how does it feel to be an international fucking treasure?' type question was fired at him by one of the big kids, he looked down at us eager uncool indie kids up the front, winked and giggled. Take that, Glenn A Baker!

Now real fans would have known Bowie had this mischief in him — he began his career with a song about a Laughing Gnome, for god's sake.

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But somewhere among the piles of awards, hits and amazing personas since, the press had forgotten his lightness of touch. While we were obsessed with his otherworldliness, we forgot his humanness and his wicked sense of humour.

Since his passing, stories and tributes have rushed around the internet between fans, serving as memories and comfort. Interestingly, lots have now started including notes about this light side of him — the Bowie who seemed to have a camp name-calling game with Brian Eno; the Bowie who played along with late night talk show hosts' silliness:

In among the repeats and tributes, if you look, this side has always been there. If you're feeling a bit Ziggy teary, friends, then I urge you to return to Zoolander and enjoy the glory of Bowie judging The Walk Off. When he floats onto screen in amongst the faux fashion chaos and casually says, "I believe I might be of service", his comedic timing is tighter than a duck's arse in a flood. Followed by a quick musical sting of Let's Dance just to prove that shit's gunna get real, he plays the scene wonderfully straight, all the way down to the hard yards of following, and disqualifying, some very nasty ball tearing.

Now, Bowie could have worn any one of those outrageous Zoolander costumes and played on any one of those characters easily — that was his bread and butter, after all, being a star of the fashion world. But what made this comedic moment so wonderful was his restraint. He was generous enough to let the others get on with their stupidity while he just got on with the stupidity of being David Freaken Bowie. Oh yes, sir, you were of service.

Next most famous was his appearance in Ricky Gervais' Extras in 2006. Bowie appeared in season two, episode two of the show, where Ricky Gervais' character, Andy, is having something of a creative crisis. He feels he's sold out and has become a cliche, something that is artistically barren and uninspired. Andy meets Bowie after paying his way in the VIP area at an exclusive club.

Like with Zoolander, what makes this funny is the type of star Bowie is: the man who can make music from alien worlds and futuristic places, but instead somehow finding musical inspiration in the very un-alien, very ordinary human that is Gervais' egotistical, talentless Andy.

Bowie is wonderfully restrained by also totally in on the joke — why look to NASA for your next hit when there's a 'chubby little loser' here in front of you? Comedy is also drawn from the inversion he creates; while Andy tries to tie Bowie and himself together (calling the crowd a 'rabble'), Bowie keeps on singing, straight-faced, getting a singalong happening about that "pug-nosed face". While ABC TV is featuring the ep this week in full, some of the best bits actually reside in this extra for Extras — again, Bowie displaying timing that would make a watchmaker weep.

Remembering that Bowie didn't even take Bowie THAT seriously provides a necessary counterpoint to the waves of earnestness that have swept over so many of us since his passing was announced. Recalling his lighter side is also a practical a way to break the 'Holy shit, how did this happen?' fog feeling that has settled in. Bowie was a serious artist who made groundbreaking and genuinely-weird-at-times art. He was a visionary and prophet providing a guiding light for the rebels, outcasts, freaks and lost souls. But, we do him a disservice if we assume he was always playing it straight (yes, that pun, on all of the things, was lovingly intended).