When I was a young and carefree hippy, (circa 1993-ish) I had a lovely laid-back (grubby) flat in a bohemian part of town, surrounded by many other new-age grunge afficionados. Every Monday evening, without exception, my non-conformist friends and I would convene at my ‘yard’ for the scintillating experience that was: Ren and Stimpy club.
My neighbour, an enormous, cadaverous, gravel-voiced punk would come over with two two litre bottles of Stonehouse Cider – sometimes not even bothering with the stairs, simply shuffling along the parapet wall and falling through my front room window directly onto the ancient leather sofa that sat beneath it – and we would drink said cider, smoke smelly cigarettes and wait in breathless anticipation for Ren and Stimpy to come on the telly.
It never disappointed, and within minutes we would be hysterically laughing, actual tears rolling down our faces.
It was like nothing else on T.V at the time, although the schedule people at the beeb must have realised that it wasn’t really a kids cartoon because they put it on at that time of the evening in that slot, but that in itself was a wholly unusual thing in the 90’s, a cartoon with adult themes? It was revolutionary!
The creator of Ren and Stimpy, a guy named John Kricfalusi, had originally pitched a show called Our Gang to Nickelodeon in late 1991. Ren and Stimpy, although characters that Kricfalusi had invented while at art college many years previously, were put in by him as an afterthought as one of the main characters pets.
The networks Vice President of Animation Production, one Vanessa Coffey, didn’t like the Our Gang idea but loved Ren and Stimpy. So they were commissioned as a series, along with Rugrats and Doug. These three were the original line-up for Nickelodeons new Nicktoons division, and just goes to show how close and random these things are.
The initial two series still stand, for me, as some of the finest, innovative and purely hilarious animation ever committed to film. The Log ™ advert, the Happy Happy Joy Joy song, Powdered Toast, Space Madness, the History Eraser Button, Jerry the Belly Button Elf, Muddy Mudskipper, Mr Horse. All these skits, episodes and characters were ridiculously funny and surreal and wonderful. Add in the weirdly on-point orchestral backing music and sound effects and they were absolute comedy dynamite.
They were also, unfortunately for Mr Kricfalusi, overtly violent and sexually suggestive. He quickly ran into disagreements with some elements of management, but managed to keep most of the ‘subversive’ elements in by agreeing to ‘heart-warming’ episodes as well. Moralistic it most definitely wasn’t, and actually the first season was the polar opposite.
Things came to a head after two seasons, sadly, and Nickelodeon terminated Johns contract. Thereafter, the show went downhill rapidly. Watered down into just another generic cartoon it was a shadow of its former self, a crying shame, and having lost it’s edge my Ren and Stimpy club was disbanded in disgust.
We do have a lot to thank Mr Kricfalusi for, though, because apart from the genius of his inaugural run on Ren and Stimpy, it was trailblazing animation: paving the way and pushing back the boundaries to allow for shows such as Beavis and Butthead and South Park.
Oh, there was a brief resurgence of our favourite duo, in the Ren and Stimpy ‘Adult Party Cartoon’ where Mr K really cranked the smut up to maximum. Oddly, though it was too much and the show saw only three episodes ever being aired. It does make for quite uncomfortable viewing!
That said, I believe that the original Ren and Stimpy run stands the test of time. It is every bit as funny now as when it first aired, which is a very rare thing. Truly, it is the cartoon that keeps on giving!