Opinion: Should Comedians Change Their Act For Different Times?

If you’d had a medical examination that you felt was more intimate than it needed to be what would you do? Go to the General Medical Council? Go to the police? In the case of Greg Davies he turned it into one of the routines in his latest live show, You Magnificent Beast.

Davies recalls how he once had to have a check-up before starting a job and says – spoiler alert – that the doctor held his penis for three minutes. Davies thought this was strange so mentioned it on set. To which he was told by another actor that the doctor had done it to him and, much to Davies’ comedic chagrin, had held his penis for a mammoth ten minutes.

Now this “dick-lifter” story is a comedy routine so maybe not to be taken too seriously. But I've always felt that Davies’ onstage style is to talk about things that have really happened. In fact he opens his new show by saying that his mother has asked him not to talk about her onstage. There is usually a whiff of truth in his schtick. Though, of course, he may have entirely made this anecdote up.

In these delicate, sensitive times, I wondered if he should be telling this story. I assume Davies has embellished the experience for comic effect. Maybe it was three seconds rather than three minutes. But Davies makes light of it, complaining that his penis was only held for three minutes.

I expect when Davies wrote the routine the sexual misconduct issue had not become as pressing as it is now. But has the thought gone through his head that maybe the joke is not quite as funny as it might have been six months ago? The show seems quite tightly scripted and it certainly got a laugh, so I guess that is why it has stayed in.

I had a similar thought watching Nick Helm at the Leicester Square Theatre recently. During his hilariously self-abasing set Helm talked about sitting alone in his flat masturbating. Now the key here is his tragic post-break-up loneliness. He wasn’t doing it in the presence of anybody else. No harm was done except maybe to his dignity. He just presents himself as a sad wanker.

But I saw this show the day after Louis CK had issued his statement apologising for his behaviour, so I was surprised Helm did the routine exactly as he had probably been doing it throughout his tour. I’m not suggesting he should have cut it, but I was surprised there was no nod to acknowledge current events beyond the stage.

Comedy is going through a strange phase at the moment. A Ken Dodd show from over thirty years ago was recently aired on Five to mark the comic’s 90th birthday. Apparently before it started the continuity announcer warned that the programme included material that was considered normal for the era the programme was made. Things that were once acceptable are not always acceptable.

So I don’t know. Should Greg Davies’ show have started with a trigger warning for anyone that might have been traumatised by a GP? Should Nick Helm’s show have cut the masturbation material (it would have been a much shorter show if he had). Probably not. I'm not saying either did anything wrong. In fact I gave them both good reviews. But these thoughts did cross my mind during their shows. Am I being too sensitive? 


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