sat 19/10/2019

Lee Mack, Winchester Theatre Royal | reviews, news & interviews

Lee Mack, Winchester Theatre Royal

Lee Mack, Winchester Theatre Royal

Old-school pro is relentlessly funny, frequently scathing but never malicious

Lee Mack: that rare thing - a comic who makes audiences cry with laughter

Maybe it’s because he’s from Lancashire, home of some of Britain’s finest comics. Maybe it’s because he is a very physical performer and just looks the part. Maybe it’s because he “has funny bones”, as several commentators have remarked. Whatever the reason for Lee Mack’s success, he is simply a very funny comedian and, that rare thing, one who makes his audiences cry with laughter.

Mack is an old pro (although he’s only 40) and started in comedy as a bluecoat at Pontin’s. Mack tells a beautifully crafted joke about his comic origins (which, like much of his “true stories”, may or may not be true) in this show, called Going Out, a nod to the programme, Not Going Out (BBC One), that has brought him both critical acclaim and prestigious awards. The joke-based sitcom about mismatched flat-sharers (which he co-writes and stars in) was, I’m delighted to say, recently recommissioned for another series.

Mack’s quick wit and warm humour, however, are best seen live - not that I could reprint here a stream of jokes that would expound on that. Rather, his comedy is a relentless stream of verbals as he stalks up and down the stage like a nervous groom and an initial set-up is followed by soft gag, meandering story, back-reference to where he began and finally a super pay-off. Along the way, he’ll do dreadful puns and quick quips while mocking the audience for not getting to the joke and you mostly don’t get chance to catch your breath between the funnies because you are laughing so much. I found myself crying with laughter at several points and my companion wanted Mack to stop because the cumulative effect was, literally, making her sides hurt.

Mack has been called an old-fashioned comic because, I suppose, he’s sharp-suited, learnt his craft in the remnants of the end-of-pier era and some of his punchlines are daft one-liners - “I don’t trust the French. They put “C” on the hot tap”, but that’s to underestimate his keen comedic brain. He interacts with the audience a lot and takes real risks in insulting them, but he pulls it off because nobody is made to feel uncomfortable. Just when you think a remark about someone being Geordie/ginger/middle-class/sitting in the cheap seats may be a little too cutting, he pulls it back to deliver a killer punchline, but without the malice that many modern comics think is de rigueur. He also bothers to do research about where he is performing, and throws in several scathing local references that in Winchester were greeted with loud laughter.

And while much of the show is, obviously, scripted, Mack is brilliant at creating comedy on the hoof. At the Theatre Royal there was a Geordie woman in the audience who suffered all sorts of abuse about Newcastle’s supposed fondness for excess of alcohol, fast food and casual sex, while much later in the show another woman he spoke to said she was a live-in nanny in Winchester, a thoroughly middle-class city. He asked how old she was and without a pause replied: “A nanny at 24? That’s nothing - the Geordie woman in the balcony was a nanny at 19.” Like I said, a pro.

Touring until 19 November. Book tickets here

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