Alan Davies, Touring | Comedy reviews, news & interviews
Alan Davies, Touring
The star of QI makes an assured return to stand-up
Alan Davies used to be a regular on the stand-up circuit, before acting and other television work, including ad campaigns and being a panellist on the long-running quiz QI, took him away from live comedy. But now, after a break of more than a decade, he's back on the road and the rest has clearly served him well.
He got the mentions of Jonathan Creek and QI out of the way fairly quickly as he did some chitchat with the audience. He appeared unfazed by the largely unresponsive audience at the Hackney Empire, where I saw the show, but he turned a friendly heckle - which considerably disrupted the flow of the show - into instant comedy. Instead of moving on, he started a conversation about the science of eclipses with the heckler - a teenage bright spark from a posh school that Davies was familiar with - and this section showed Davies at his best; he was quick-witted, mildly sarcastic and mined every bit of comedy available from it.
His animated acting out of the hardcore porn now available on the internet is a hoot
Back to the show proper. Life is Pain comes from the Eeyore-ish observation of the five-year-old daughter of some friends; her weary worldview was formed by an East European nanny whose services were soon dispensed with when the child came out with more of this Weltschmerz. But the title opens up a large area for Davies' observational and sometimes surreal comedy, particularly when allied with his assumed grumpy-man persona.
A lot of the show is about his 1970s childhood, including a trip to Vesuvius that surely health and safety regulations would rule out these days, and how much the world has changed. His animated acting out of the kind of hardcore porn now available on the internet is a hoot; but then he meekly tells us all he had as a teenage boy was girls in their underwear in the Freeman's catalogue “where they haven't been trafficked”.
He also reminisces with some affection about his 1980s university days. He studied drama, where he was one of the “halfwits in leotards and legwarmers” at a time when when students were highly politicised. One of his tutors made it her job to radicalise the women on the course, a reference that Davies then segues into a tour-de-force essay on the politics of women's pubic hair.
Since he's been away Davies has married and become a father. New parenthood is a dangerous area for comics, but he avoids tweeness as he turns his personal experience into a more generalised section on the rubbish that people talk about parenting, and the irritation of having, as a new parent, to be lectured on how best to raise your kids. He turns this into a surreal account of how listening to wrongheaded advice might mean you literally throw out the baby with the bathwater.
This is Davies' most personal show, with references to losing his mum as a young child, his fraught relationship with his father, and the granddad he adored, who suffered from Parkinson's. Not comedy gold, you may think, but Davies makes these both touching and funny. It's good to have him back.
- Alan Davies is touring until 16 December
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
The gloriously daft duo return
Likeable comic points out life's inanities
Surreal comic kicks off his West End run
Australian character comic's suburban fantasy
Comic at his poetic best
Observational comic with a cutting edge
Oi! Time has not withered the two legends' characters or catchphrases
Tears as well as laughter in a well-oiled stage memoir
The mega-popular stand-up's Happy & Glorious show is entertaining but not inspiring
Businesslike show from the Chatty Man
London run for the Edinburgh Comedy Award winner
Otherwise polished young stand-up gets irritated with the audience and stomps off