Opinion: The Comeback Kids Who Are No Longer Kids

David Bowie is not the only artist on the comeback trail at the moment. The comedy circuit seems to be in danger of getting clogged up with performers dusting off their funny bones, the stand-up Sinatras who cannot quite bid the banter farewell. There is something magical about stand-up that makes it hard to leave entirely behind. It's the mirth Mafia. You try to escape, but somehow you get pulled back in. Either that or you have some school fees to pay and it can be a nice little earner for someone who knows how to work a crowd.

Alan Davies, for example, set out on his first national tour in a decade last year and comes to the Hammersmith Apollo this February. He told me he "fell out of love" with stand-up for a while, but got his appetite back a couple of years ago when he appeared as one of the judges on ITV1's disappointingly dismal X Factor for clowns, Show Me The Funny. At 46 Davies just about qualifies as a veteran, yet at the same time he is in the same age bracket as new superstars John Bishop and Micky Flanagan. There is plenty of mileage in him and he can talk about the perils of parenthood and wax nostalgic about the joys of eighties female pubic topiary with the best of them. 

At sixty years old Alexei Sayle is probably more of a bona fide veteran, having been one of the pioneers of alternative comedy in the early eighties. He probably thought he had left stand-up behind for good, but then got tempted back for a one-off cameo at the Royal Festival Hall a couple of years ago. Sayle was only compering a brief section but got the warmest reception of the night and after some deliberation started doing low-key dates again and this week opens a run at the Soho Theatre. He might not be quite as angry as he was once, but when you have a mind as keen as his the knack for finding the funny never goes away, whether berating his nemesis Ben Elton or telling a wry yarn about being offered Hovis with his hummus in a Liverpool restaurant. Age suits Sayle. There is something quite stately and aristocratic about him. If revisiting his roots does not work out he could probably make a good living as a passable Edward VII impersonator. 

Stand-up comedy really seems to be one of the most addictive drugs around. And unlike cocaine it can make you money rather than make you broke. Furthermore, in contrast to pop music it is not so undignified to get back up onstage when you are approaching your dotage. Like punchdrunk heavyweight boxers, clowns cannot resist getting back into the ring for one more payday. Or just to hear those appreciative, validating giggles again. Or just for fun. Even smaller acts who were never big stars have nipped back into the clubs as soon as they have waved their children off to university. Bob Mills moved from stand-up into script-writing but has recently been cropping up in the listings again. Martin Soan, one of the late Malcolm Hardee's anarchic chums, has never really been away, but now that his offspring have grown up he is more heavily involved in Pull The Other One, an inventive south London club evoking the anything-goes variety spirit of the original comedy new wave.

One way or another, it seems that once a stand-up, always a stand-up. Russell Brand might have jumped at the chance of a Hollywood career but he still likes the buzz of riffing in front of real people. Robin Williams can't shake the itch to improvise. Ricky Gervais is going to tour again, while David Baddiel and his old mucker Rob Newman are both doing low-key gigs at the moment with a view to returning to live performance. The way Jack Whitehall's career is skyrocketing it looks like acting work might keep him busy for a while and it would not surprise me if live performance takes a back seat. But who knows? In a quarter of a century when his kids have been packed off to boarding school it may well not take much to lure Jack back onto the stage again. 

 

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