Hands Up, Who Likes Me?: The Stomach-Churning Puppets of Spitting Image

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In this weekly column, I’ll introduce you to the world of British comedy in the chronology of how I, an American anglophile, discovered it in my life. This week: Spitting Image.

I discovered Spitting Image one summer when friends of mine from Ireland showed me a warbly VHS tape of the show. I was met by a disturbingly creepy puppet of Reagan being awoken by his advisor, “Don,” at the White House. And I was immediately confused, queasy and hooked.

There are several shows that I watched when I was growing up, that for some reason or another made me feel, for lack of a better word, “ooky,” inside. And yet, there was something about them that I just couldn’t resist.

American programs like, Sigmund and the Sea Monster, The Great Space Coaster and Zoobilie Zoo all had this effect on me. But the British satirical masterpiece Spitting Image was far and away the “ookiest” show I remember from my youth.

The nauseating yet compelling opening sequence to, the Great Space Coaster:

The stomach-churning, yet impossible to look away from, Zoobilie Zoo:

Spitting Image was developed by Peter Fluck and Roger Law for ITV television and ran from 1984 to 1996. The show featured a series of recurring sketches starring grotesque puppet caricatures of 80’s and 90’s pop-culture icons.

Originally, Spitting Image focused on local and international politics, but eventually branched out to lampoon musicians, actors, athletes and anyone else who made their living by being famous (or imfamous).

A fake Spitting Image musical compilation:

As a kid, I didn’t always understand the subversive political digs, but I knew it was aggressive, strange and somehow wrong. Which, of course, made it completely right for me. Looking back on it now, Spitting Image doesn’t seem quite as biting, but at the time it was very unsettling, and it paved the way for new approaches to alternative comedy.

That Ronald Reagan puppet would become an icon of 80’s imagery, and it still haunts my dreams.

As usual, here’s a clip of best-of moments from the show, courtesy of my good friends at YouTube:

Curtis Gwinn is a writer and comedian living in LA. He’s written for The Onion, MTV’s Human Giant, Comedy Central and FOX Searchlight Pictures. He also co-starred in and co-wrote Fat Guy Stuck in Internet on Adult Swim.