What We Can Learn About Life from That Video of Richard Blackwood Failing to Zest a Lemon
Are we not all, at one time or another, Richard Blackwood grating the inside of a lemon?
How do we know a moment of cultural significance is happening in front of us? How do we know when a moment is destined or doomed to become infinite? A baby being born, a tennis tournament being won, JFK getting shot in the neck and then the head: these transcend significance – they are moments with Wikipedia pages dedicated to them, moments that start or end Pulitzer-winning books.
But a tiny moment that steps out of time and becomes immortal? Harder to get a pulse on. Harder to tack down. But they happen, and we've just had one. Point being this: when you are old and cracked and grey, and your grandchildren look up at you with tiny glowing faces and say in their sweet little voices, "Grandma and/or Grandad, where were you when Richard Blackwood fucked up zesting that lemon on Sunday Brunch?" you will know. You will say, "I was on Twitter, roundly taking the piss."
Here's that video of Richard Blackwood zesting the inside of a lemon. I have watched this video maybe 15 or 20 times now. It might be 25. I have watched this video more than I've watched this .gif of Messi scoring the most Messi goal of all time – Messi more than human now, Messi essentially Jesus tap-dancing on water, Messi now just squinting at the universal rules of physics and the base rules of football and just turning his body into electricity, in six short seconds rendering the mighty oak of Athletic Bilbao down into a splintered stump – because this is better. Richard Blackwood is the Messi of fucking up zesting a lemon.
Want to watch famous people cook? From MUNCHIES: How to Make Jerk Sauce With Kelis
This is the internet age, and despite a 19-second video being literally embedded 113 words behind you, we have to go through the Japanese tea ceremony of me describing the video to you, in case you are at work and without headphones, in case you have somehow managed to not yet see that time Richard Blackwood fucked up zesting a lemon. Skip this bit. We open with Richard Blackwood slicing a lemon. He is telling Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer some story about how EastEnders is good. They are cooking and chatting. Lads, you know. This is what lads do now. And then he asks: "You want me to just squeeze the juice in there?" And Rimmer goes: "Just the zest." "Just the zest, yeah?" Blackwood says. "Alright." Then he slices the lemon again.
This is the moment you know it is going wrong. It's going so wrong that Tim Lovejoy knows it's going wrong. Tim Lovejoy – the human embodiment of a cheeky Nando's, a Nando's so cheeky it grew arms and a head and a shallow Chelsea obsession and somehow landed a series of chummy presenting gigs – even Lovejoy knows the zest is slipping away from him here. Tim Lovejoy can already see the next 20 seconds unfolding in front of him like an awful car crash. The lorry of Richard Blackwood is jack-knifing into the G-Wiz of this slice of lemon. He hands Blackwood a grater. "Yeah, I know, but I'm just trying..."
The hubris. The hubris of Richard Blackwood. They should show this moment in schools when they teach kids not to be arrogant. "If you do not know what zest is, do not say the words, 'I know,'" teachers will say. "If you do, it will be lethal." Rimmer's come over now. They are Jackie Onassis screaming helplessly. Blackwood takes another slice of lemon. He holds the freshly-cut half of the lemon up to the grater. And then he grates the inside of a lemon.
The rest of the video doesn't matter – Rimmer patiently explains that zest is the outside of the lemon, and Blackwood expresses surprise – because the bullet has already gone through his neck: he's just grated the inside of a lemon. In no realm in this universe and the next does that make sense. In a way, you have to admire Blackwood for this, as it's a true moment of originality. If you adhere to a wider theory of intertextuality – that every word has already been said, in every combination, and that everything we say now is just K'Nexing together the broken sentences of the past – you can also assume that everything that might be done has already been done. But no. Richard Blackwood just zested the inside of a lemon. Nobody has ever done that before. Blackwood just changed the game.
Who is Richard Blackwood? What is Richard Blackwood? He is a comedian, ostensibly, but also a presenter, a rapper, an actor. In 2000 he was touted as the UK's answer to Will Smith – a celebrity polymath, speaking any language of entertainment he might turn his hand to – but instead he sort of became a semi-famous temp, trapped in a world where he was too renowned to get an actual job (Can you imagine Richard Blackwood working in a bank? You cannot. Can you see him working in a kitchen? No.) and not quite likeable enough to make a full-on crack at fame. Richard Blackwood, stranded in fame limbo. Richard Blackwood doing pick-up gigs around central London. Richard Blackwood telling you your kids might smell of hammers. Richard Blackwood's wilderness years. Richard Blackwood, long-time Shrek donkey. Then he got a gig on EastEnders and zested a lemon wrong on live TV.
Now would be a good time to revisit Blackwood's 2000-era fun pop single, 1-2-3-4 Get with the Wicked, because it is the most 2000 thing to ever happen. You've got the "Ladies? Fellas?" call-and-response that Justin Timberlake obviously cribbed for Senorita. You've got the refrain "What, what?" and you've also got the refrain, "Who, who?", shouted as though chanting the ancient words and curses that summon up the Baha Men. You've got a Deetah guest verse. You've got Blackwood's enduring hubris – "RB runs the show," he claims, which is a lie, because Richard Blackwood does not run any show – and you've got some calypso drums. It is a thousand bad songs at once, and it could only happen in the year 2000. The year 2000, when people still bought CDs, before they figured out properly how to Napster everything. When money still flowed into the economy. When a music exec with a ponytail stood silently in a room listening to a demo of Richard Blackwood barking "WHAT WHAT? WHO WHO?" and went: "Yes. Let's pay money to make this a thing." The excess of pre-financial crisis Britain, summed up in one three-minute, 36-second long chase for the ethereal, unknowable concept of "the wicked".
Where did it go wrong for Blackwood? He is not unlikeable, and he is not untalented. In a world where Jade Goody could excel, how did Blackwood fail? Blackwood's music career, in retrospect, is one of busted hope. Of how insane the turn of the millennium truly was in this country. Of potential burned away over a decade of missed shots. And now he is here again, clawing his way back, sharing a stage with Amanda Holden, for god's sake – sharing a stage with Amanda Holden while dressed as a donkey, DJing for Choice FM before it became Capital, taking small cameo roles in "this is what the hood is like" British films, until – finally – EastEnders came knocking and asked him to play Vincent, and the reviews were going so well, and then:
And then he zested the inside of a lemon on live TV.
This feels like the end of a sporting movie, where the main character – the main character is a baseball pitcher, or something similar, maybe an NFL quarterback who was seduced by every college going but then broke his leg in his first game out, and then crawled back to health and then broke it again, harder this time, the leg broken in two places – and he goes back to his hometown, this NFL quarterback, and everyone is like, "YO, RONNIE! WHERE'S YOUR FOOTBALL CAREER, HUH?" and he is ageing now, that electric pace taken out of his legs, but he's still got it; he is working part-time in a warehouse but he still takes the local team to a final, and some old coach calls him and goes, "Hey, Ron..." – the old coach calls him Ron, which is a term of sort of grave and gruff respect, the coach the kind of man who always wears a polo shirt with a whistle on a string, wearing a cap and spitting chewing tobacco onto the floor, not an emotional man but a good man – he goes, "Hey Ron, I heard you're good at football again," and he drafts him back into his old team – NFL, you know, big league – and the crowd is roaring, and he comes onto the pitch in the last minute of the game, destined to change it – and it is the Super Bowl, or something similar; Prince is there, cheering him on – and he receives the ball, and the crowd holds its breath, and he goes to kick it, and then he snaps both his legs and his arms, and his neck, and his head falls off. That's Richard Blackwood right now.
I mean fuck. It's only zest, isn't it? Not everyone knows what zest is: it is fine. I cannot poach an egg still, despite watching multiple YouTube videos. I quite often forget to put salt in things, despite salt being the most important ingredient there is. We all have culinary blind spots. We all don't know things. But after the long, tortured redemption of Blackwood – a phoenix diving into the embers of the post-millennium world of excess and being birthed anew on stage dressed as a donkey in Shrek the Musical – this feels like a particular kick in the teeth. Because we have all been there, haven't we? Making a fool of ourselves at a party while trying to both maintain breezy smalltalk and load up a crisp with hummus. We've all just had our brain do a hard reset at an inopportune time and we've forgotten how basic fruit grating techniques go. We have all, one time or another, done this. Watch this video and think: are we not all just humans toiling against the face of God? Are we not all, sometimes, Richard Blackwood zesting the inside of a lemon?
More stuff from VICE: