Review: Daniel Kitson, Stewart Lee & More, Palace Theatre

Laughing Point

It is hard to believe but there have been mutterings of a Daniel Kitson backlash. His latest theatre piece, Analog.Ue was not greeted by the usual ecstatic reviews. Maybe - though I fully expect he would deny it – that is why he has been getting back to his first love of stand-up recently, compering a number of benefits with a few more in the pipeline. This really is what he does best. As he jokily boasted onstage at the Palace Theatre last night, he is, after all, the finest comedian of his generation. 

The show was in aid of homelessness charity Centrepoint and the bill was a particularly good one. It was hard, though, for the acts to compete with the brilliance of Kitson, whose effortless riffing outshone the guests' best well-honed material. Opening act Aisling Bea (replacing Sara Pascoe) had a very good routine about the way that some American comedians say nothing but say it so confidently they still get laughs. 

Bea admitted that she is a “Secret Talker” and has a habit of going on too long. She did outstay her welcome very slightly, but it was probably a good idea to start with someone pretty mainstream. This looked like a pretty straight audience and they appeared suitably shellshocked at the start of Tony Law’s short excerpt from his Tone Zone show. Late-career success seems to have strangely liberated Law and made him nuttier than ever. Sporting a D-I-Y tassled onesie and playing the trombone he gradually won even the squarest audience members round. He should have finished with his idiosyncratic dance to Don’t Stop Believing and left the crowd on a high, but a little bit of business with a bunny hat and a bat slightly over-egged the pudding. Conclusive proof that you can have too much surrealism. 

By contrast Joe Lycett was an instantly safe pair of hands, telling the kind of funny-but-true consumer-based stories that might have got him a job as one of Esther’s boys on That’s Life years ago. Lycett first made his name with his tale of a protest over a Birmingham parking ticket and he now has a new version, having been ticketed again when using a parking app. Lycett is surely the Larry Grayson de nos jours, adding bitchy descriptions as he spins his yarn – the woman in the ticket office, for instance, is dubbed “Sweaty Sharon”. A brilliant closing story about having to buy an unwanted cookie to get a meal deal was the icing on the comedy cake.

The second half started with Katherine Ryan, who, for once didn't need to resort to her Beyonce routine to have a storming set. Ryan’s brand of feminism is interesting – falling somewhere between the angry whimsy of Bridget Christie and the populist crowdpleasing of Luisa Omielan. Gags about lusting after Prince Harry and some mildly edgy material about Kate Middleton as the new Diana kept the momentum going during what was threatening to be a long evening.

Josh Widdicombe kept things on track with a sure-fire stand-up set that had something for everyone – alternative but never too alternative. Widdicombe is a classic observational comic and getting better all the time. It is no surprise that he has become pretty ubiquitous on TV. The Devonian found someone also from the West Country in the audience – or at least someone who had been to Uni there – and excelled with some material about Exeter, a city so out-of-touch he said it still had a branch of Athena.

The final act was Stewart Lee, back indoors after his Cemetery gig on Saturday night. Lee was road-testing the same bit of material at this gig so for a fuller review have a read of this. Needless to say it went down very well indeed.

But not as well as Kitson who managed to walk a glorious tightrope between charm, abuse, cocky arrogance and self-deprecation. He’s lost quite a bit of weight this year – two stone he said – and was looking trim. There was no fat on his compering either. Even when he lost his temper at someone taking photos of him it prompted some insightful thoughts on the creepiness of photographic art. 

Kitson was analysing his gags even as the audience was still laughing at the punchlines. Discussing his soccer abilities he compared his sporting brain to a professional footballer’s mind: “Bit racist, condones rape”. Then worried that the joke was the wrong kind of joke to get laughs with, while also admitting that it was exquisitely constructed.

I won’t go into too much detail about Kitson’s “rich in melancholy” routines as he might do the same ones at these forthcoming benefits he is hosting here and here. There was a very resonant line about Monster Munch though. Needless to say just go and see him. Even if none of the other acts appeal to you Kitson MCing is a joy to behold. I’m looking forward to his next theatre piece of course, but these compering shows make me wish there were two Daniel Kitsons. One to do theatre all the time, one to do stand-up all the time. Of course in every sense there is only one Daniel Kitson.

Donate to Centrepoint here.

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