Review: Simon Munnery, Leicester Square Theatre

Simon Munnery

Comedy on film is clearly all the rage. In the same week that The Comedy Store launched its Raw & Uncut shows in the UK's cinemas, Simon Munnery opened his latest show at the Leicester Square Theatre which also puts stand-up on the screen. And that is where the similarity ends.

The Store's Raw & Uncut is a straight no frills transfer where the comedians can have a night off while they have a night onscreen. Munnery's Fylm-Makker finds the veteran innovator sitting at the back of the stalls behind a camera, projecting his own face and various lo-fi props on the table in front of him, onto the screen onstage. It is typically eccentric, as one would expect from Munnery. Bunuel meets Professor Brainstorm. And a little bit revolutionary. As the star points out, it's the first time the performer can do the show and watch the show simultaneously.

At times it feels as if Munnery has come up with a brilliant new idea but has not figured out its full potential yet. The show is frequently an idiosyncratic, sit-down revisit of various things Munnery has done previously, from inspired one-liners and rug-pulling wordplay to his story of a doomed airship, Hats Off To The 101ers. When Munnery is funny, he is really, really funny. And when he is not funny he still has a kind of shambolic charm that makes you keep smiling. Sometimes the simplest moments tickle one the most – a surprisingly convincing Billy Connolly impersonation, for example, or the way that he swaps his face for his hand on the screen by flicking a switch. There is nothing intrinsically comical about the latter trick, but Munnery has the funny bones to make it weirdly compelling.

The show gets into trickier water elsewhere, but for every bad gag there are five good ones. You can check my calculations if you don't believe me. There is a lovely philosophical deconstruction of the lyrics of One Direction's What Makes You Beautiful and a familiar section about where his oeuvre fits in on a Venn Diagram between comedy and art - bumping up against art but never quite getting in. As well as low-tech animation there is also high-tech music, with the aid of a looper machine and Mick Moriarty on guitar.

When Munnery sings one gets a slightly better handle on where he is coming from. He is like the Mark E Smith of stand-up, taking all sorts of random references from all sorts of places and arranging them in the order that he likes best even if they do not always make sense to everybody else. Like Smith, Munnery refuses to compromise, seemingly happy to have a rarified audience who think he is brilliant. Though I suspect his manager would like to shift a few more tickets. 

I was very smug when I thought of this comparison and scribbled it down in my notebook, wondering if it had ever occurred to Munnery himself. As the show ended and the lights came up, however, The Fall's Hit The North started to play through the speakers. A quick google on the way home revealed that Munnery is – quelle surprise – a big Mark E Smith fan. That's what makes him beautiful – that he is always one step ahead of his critics. During his set Munnery described this as a work-in-progress. I'd rather watch a Simon Munnery work-in-progress than a slick Comedy Store gag-machine on a cinema screen any day.


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