mon 11/12/2023

Chris Addison, Bloomsbury Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Chris Addison, Bloomsbury Theatre

Chris Addison, Bloomsbury Theatre

Welcome return to stand-up for The Thick of It's Ollie

Chris Addison: intelligent and sometimes caustic comedy about being middle-class

Keen comedy fans could never understand why Chris Addison, now 38 and marking 15 years in the business, didn’t have the breakthrough to national fame he deserved sooner. His quick, sometimes caustic but always intelligent humour played to sold-out venues at the Edinburgh Fringe each year, critics heaped praise on him and he received three prestigious Perrier award nominations.

And his radio and television work - including The Department, Dotcomedy and Lab Rats - never quite propelled him to where his talent deserved. But then came The Thick of It.

In Armando Iannucci’s brilliantly written political satire, the fresh-faced Addison plays Ollie, the arrogant, fast-tracked Oxbridge grad special adviser, and he reprised the role (as Toby) in the Oscar-nominated film version, In the Loop. On the back of that success, Addison is also appearing (as the sarcastic headmaster) in the current series of another superbly written TV programme, Skins. His burgeoning screen career kept him away from stand-up for five years, but now he’s making a welcome return.

In a departure from the kind of shows Addison did before, this show has no central theme - previously he liked to build them around big ideas such as civilisation, the universe and anthropology. But those themes, while throwing up shows that were delivered like interesting lectures, merely served to frame his acutely observed comedy about being middle-class. Addison grew up in suburban Manchester to teacher/doctor parents, is highly intelligent, nerdy even, and not afraid to show it - he is, he says, the kind of guy who punctuates his text messages properly.

He may revel in his middle-classness but also guys the ridiculous snobbery that goes with it - “EasyJet is a middle-class plot to keep BA for ourselves” - and he is never funnier than when describing the pretensions of the Jocasta set. Addison, always an expressive and energetic comic with a touch of camp about him, has now become a great physical comedian as well. Beanpole-framed and unathletic, he recently joined a gym and his impression of using a running machine - “I look like four gay windmills,” he says, arms and legs flailing like a drowning man - is superb.

What doesn’t work so well is how, being English, male and middle-class, Addison represses his emotions. It doesn't ring true - could he be such good actor, and would he admit to a such a deep fondness for Cranford if it were? - and besides, it’s unforgivably lazy stereotyping for such a witty comic.

Addison has been criticised by some for being too slick or even passionless -- criticisms I don’t share. Yes, he has made a career out of being Mr Smarty Pants (whether with his own material or in character), but that’s surely a plus. He really is very bright, and big ideas and the sheer joy of knowing stuff clearly excite him. Stupidity - whether it’s from those who messed up our economy or from a refreshed woman in the audience last night, who repeatedly heckled him - really, really irritates him. (Although I do wish he hadn’t descended to calling her a bitch.)

And there’s absolutely no doubting his passion when Addison lays into bankers and the BNP, the latter in a brilliant extended riff, complete with a fiendish way to bankrupt them. It’s great to have him back.

Book for Chris Addison's tour until 5 May

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Watching Chris Addison last night was pretty disappointing. I'd previously only known him as a comedy actor from 'The Thick of It ' and (perhaps naively) went to the show on the strength of this performance. After seeing the show, I think he should probably stick to what he's is best at: he's doesn't really cut it as a stand-up and you can tell that he hasn't really served his time in the small comedy clubs and venues (e.g. one 'heckle' by an infant caused him to completely lose his flow.) This was compounded by the fact that he didn't really seem capable of interesting or creative improvisation; his material was also pretty weak. Poooor.

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