Brighton-based comic named best compere in the 2008 and 2011 Chortle awards, and nominated in 2009 and 2010.
Stephen Grant Videos
Stephen Grant: Facepalm at the Brighton Comedy Festival
So this is The Show They Tried To Ban! Only now, after a two-year legal battle defending his human rights can Stephen Grant speak the truth about his nasty divorce and his evil ex-wife.
Or, to use the sort of forensic pedantry that Grant employs in his stand-up, the more accurate story is that in one of the scores of letters exchanged during their undeniably bitter divorce battle, his ex-wife’s solicitors – stupidly – demanded he not mention her on stage. His team rightly shot back with ‘We’ll promise no such thing.’ And the matter closed.
In the name of disclosure, I have to mention that I’m a friend of Grant’s ex-wife. It’s a strange position be in, to have someone you know so viciously trashed on stage. Someone like Les Dawson’s iconic mother-in-law was an obvious fiction – imagined as some Donald McGill postcard grotesque – but because modern stand-up is rooted in real experiences, Grant’s necessarily one-side tirade makes a vile nemesis from a genuine person, who he has already named in the world’s media.
Although the much-publicised and heavily vitriolic divorce story is what a lot of the audience came for, it’s a relatively short section of the show. The gags, as already published in the press, are quite old-fashioned: ‘When I finally got the house back, the only thing she left was a broomstick, which was odd, because I thought she might have needed it for transport’ – but the acrimony is genuine. As for the veracity of his version of events, who knows?
Although spite, anger and revenge can clearly be great artistic driving forces, this section is out of tune with Grant’s normal, affably upbeat, stage demeanour and the overall thrust of Facepalm are his own awkward moments and social embarrassments, such as his difficulties chatting up women. The title itself is a neologism to describe the act of putting your hand across your face from shame.
Social misdemeanours are common ground for comedians, of course, although he acknowledges he’s not completely inept at human interaction, so the scale of his behavioural pratfalls often aren’t huge. Anecdotes from his time as the house compere at Komedia, just down the road, and as the audience warm-up guy for shows such as Dale Winton’s In It To Win It, in which it’s the public who are the idiots, go down better.
He also tackles a few other well-covered topics, such as aging (he’s 37), Facebook and scrambled hotel porn, in which he errs on the side of the over-familiar, and are met with mixed results. However the latter topic does give rise to a nifty long-range callback that ties the two ends of the show together.
His core strength, though, is not in him trying this universal everyman material, but his unashamed geekiness. This former computer programmer has a great joke about binary, some tricksy audience banter about laws of physics, and some smartly constructed puns. Anything that needs analytic brainpower to come up with an obtuse approach, basically.
His long list of nationality adjectives that can be used as nouns (such as ‘going for a Chinese’) is an object lesson in how he can employ an intellectual exercise to get laughs. Though in a similar vein, his list of chess analogies is much limper.
This unevenness in quality, from gags to more muted observations, creates a sense that, although playing to maybe 500 people, Facepalm is still a work in progress, an idea reinforced by the notes he occasionally glances at. Within the bloated 90 minutes there’s a leaner, more effective show wanting to get out. Maybe the good jokes should seek a divorce from the rest of them…