Dara O Briain at the Hammersmith Apollo

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Dara O Briain has become such a part of the comedy furniture, it’s easy to forget just how innately good he is as a stand-up. Thanks to constant Mock The Week re-runs, it seems there’s never a night he’s not on the telly, and with a tireless commitment to touring, he’s on stage almost as often as he’s on the box.

Tonight at the Hammersmith Apollo is his 109th or 110th night of his current tour – even he loses count. But he’s showing no sign of road-weariness; far from it. Even limbering up with the traditional ‘and what do you do?’ audience banter, he proves he’s as sharp as they come, possibly helped by his encouragement for those in dull jobs to lie, to save us all the tedium of trying to find something interesting to say about their IT projects.

Such ice-breaking badinage often seems redundant in big shows, but O Briain elicits warm, frequent laughs from the apparently effortless ad-libbing. Even when much of the banter revolves around the audience’s apparently useless answers, as it did tonight, he strikes gold consistently.

It comes as a surprise when after just a few minutes of this invigorating chat, he calls the interval. But check your watch: it’s not a few minutes, it’s an hour – so quickly does time fly in his affable company. Although you think he’s barely got into his material, he’s niftily appended some assured routines to the improvised conversations, mainly covering medical experiences, from his sky-high cholesterol that makes him think he has butter for blood, through chiropractors, and on to how first aid courses teach the correct beat to which you should perform CPR. Informative as well as entertaining.

That approach is key to O Briain’s near-universal appeal. He’s not afraid to tackle intelligent subjects as part of the mix, but he never makes it elitist. Yes, you can talk about neutrinos, but do it via the dreadful disaster movie 2012 and everyone will stay on board. The fact there’s a punchline every few seconds helps, too.

He mainly uses his instinctive gift for communication to debunk nonsense. While there’s nothing here quite as masterful as his destruction of homeopathy in the last tour, the midwife at the National Childbirth Trust gave him more than enough new-age nonsense for another classic virtuoso routine. Such baseless superstition, along with everything from the marketing of mouthwash to the Goldilocks story, are all exposed for the bullshit it is, with the deadly precision of a sniper.

That said, the most hilarious section of them all is a simple, but beautifully realised, observational piece about the playing of video games that should reduce anyone who’s ever held a controller to helpless mirth.

Everything is delivered in such a light, conversational style that conceals the cleverness of the routines; a stealth that makes them even more devastating. He happily deconstructs what he’s doing – pointing out the obvious rhythms of a gag or engineering the ‘encore’ – while he’ll happily snap off-script to deal with any eventuality. Tonight, the one audience member not laughing amid the 3,000 who are naturally catches his attention, so there’s a little business to get her on-side, too. No punter left behind, that’s his ethos.

Effortlessly assured, O Briain is the consummate comic; appealing to a broad demographic without playing safe or dumbing down, just being hilarious. That’s not butter flowing through his veins, but pure funny.

Review date: 17 Sep 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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