ICYMI: Oliver Coleman on Withnail and I

Melbourne Comedy Festival 2019 Best Newcomer and Golden Gibbo nominee, Oliver Coleman, attempts to watch British cult classic Withnail and I

Article by Oliver Coleman | 12 Jul 2022
  • Withnail and I

I live in Melbourne, Australia. One time on the No.16 tram, whilst it was gliding through the beachside suburb of St Kilda, I saw Richard E Grant sitting on his own counting a wad of $50 bills. Pineapples we call them in Australia, because they’re yellow, green and scented with pineapple. All the banknotes in Australia are perfumed because of an old law that has its roots in the practice of early convicts using the defouled toilet paper of English aristocrats as currency. They’d spray them with fruit juices to make the exchange of commerce within the colony more tolerable.

While staring at Mr. E Grant’s fistful of money I accidentally caught his eye. He scowled at me and quickly tucked the bills into his sock. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life. No doubt so will he. Right now, he’s probably drafting an article about it for a similar publication also in the hope of selling tickets to an upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show. I saw in the programme that this year he’s performing an avant-garde durational work at the Gilded Balloon where he lies naked on a bed of currencies from all around the Commonwealth while recounting tales about the late-night orgies on the set of Gosford Park.

I don’t know why he was in Australia. But he’s famous so he can do anything he wants: travel, murder, etc. 

The No. 16 tram goes through St. Kilda, a suburb mainly populated by drunk British backpackers who aren’t aware it’s the worst suburb in Melbourne. However, it’s the one closest to the beach, so to them it’s paradise. Melbourne cares so little for its beaches that all the city’s sewers feed into the bay. The unsuspecting British come here and swim amongst our floating turds often mistaking them for hairless marsupial jellyfish.

But yes… The film! Withnail and I starring Richard E Grant and another guy who’s arguably the better actor but unfortunately playing the more normal character so doesn’t get as much recognition. It’s about two out-of-work alcoholic actors taking a holiday in the countryside if you must know. 

It is a masterpiece and I watched it in the way that any masterpiece deserves to be watched – alone in bed on a small laptop screen while eating instant ramen. The only stream I could find was an illegal upload on YouTube. It wasn’t until I was three quarters of the way through that I thought to switch it to fullscreen so I wouldn’t continue to be tempted by the sidebar of recommended videos.

I admit I did miss quite a lot of the first half because I was watching videos of a man review chocolate bars. But isn’t that what the modern cinema experience is all about! I must say that the man’s description of the new Biscoff KitKat as “quite chocolatey” and “pretty Biscoffey” was very articulate. However, I’ve since bought one and was surprised to discover that instead of a layer of Biscoff there’s actually a layer of raw mince. Nestle has gone goo-goo ga-ga! 

I also made the mistake of Googling the people the film was based on whilst watching it. If Wikipedia is to be believed (and why wouldn’t he be?), the real Withnail was a lifelong alcoholic who drank himself into getting throat cancer, had most of his oesophagus cut out and to dull his demons continued to inject booze directly into his stomach. I ruined the film for myself because I couldn’t stop thinking about the tragic reality of Withnail’s life 20 years into the future. Also, I’d burnt my tongue on the instant ramen so the night was in the bin from the get-go. 

Maybe the film hit too close to home. I also spent several years as an unemployed drama school graduate slowly watching his dreams of theatrical greatness shrivel on the vine. However, instead of drinking myself to death I started performing at open-mic comedy nights. A much worse fate. 

Anyways… I’m annoyed at myself for soiling my experience of watching this great movie. My only consolation is my hope that one night, while he is unable to sleep, Richard E Grant might be Googling himself and stumble upon this article and feel heartened that I too remember our moment on the tram together. Every time I sniff a pineapple I think of you, Richard. I do.

Oliver Coleman: Sublime, 4-28 Aug (not 16), 22.35pm, Carnivore 2 (Monkey Barrel Comedy)