Alan Carr: Spexy Beast

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

He may have a reputed £2million-a-year deal with Channel 4, a weekly Radio 2 show, and be playing to 2,000 people a night at £30 a head, but Alan Carr is just like you.

That this camp ‘chatty man’ shrieking in outrage at every minor irritation, has the common touch is undeniable, but his first stand-up tour in four years, though entertaining, frequently felt too much like a gossip than a show.

Stories about walking to the bus stop in the rough area of North London where he lives might be over-gilding the Everyman persona; but at heart he inherently has the same lower-middle class concerns he had when he worked in a Barclaycard call centre. It reflects the life his audience has: shitty beach holidays, dreary office rituals, undemanding TV programmes….

That connection, in concert with his supremely warm and likable presence,  gives him the latitude not to have go into things in much depth. As he joins the legion of comedians moaning about automatic supermarket check-outs, he only has to say yelp indignantly: ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’ to get a laugh.

It makes for an often underwritten show, ticking off such obvious ideas such as Baby On Board stickers, budget airlines or vajazzling and never developing them to any great extent. From the get-go Carr accepts there will be lulls, likening his performance to Cher Lloyd on X Factor – identifying with his demographic again – with enjoyable melodies ruined by ear-grating raps.

He’s stronger, though, when talking about himself, which was more of a theme in the superior Tooth Fairy tour than here. It used to be that comedians always said they started making people laugh to avoid the school bully, and Carr, still with bad teeth and thick-rimmed specs, definitely carries that vulnerable demeanour to this day.

He’s as much as the awkward, helpless loser now as he was when being teased for wearing a snood in PE – only now he has an audience wanting to hear him bitch about the indignity of it all: whether it’s being helpless in the face of a swimming pool’s wave machine or being mistaken for an old woman when he called the breakdown service.

To reinforce how disappointing his life is today, he introduces the character of Monica, his flatmate with a hairy face, personality defects and metal plate in her head. She must be related to Larry Grayson’s Slack Alice, as surely as Carr is comedically related to the effeminate Seventies Generation Game host himself – no matter what his forthcoming Who Do You Think You Are? uncovers.

But he perhaps fits closer with Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough’s Sissy and Ada, prattling over the garden fence. Much has been written about why non-threatening camp is such a deeply engrained tradition of British comedy, and Carr plugs into it effortlessly. His peculiar voice puts him firmly as an outsider, while his fey physicality, cantering back and forth across the big Brighton Arena stage, adds to his appeal. He’s got more mince than Fray Bentos, while his exaggerated, mimed reenactments are always high spots.

There are some wonderfully descriptive lines in his mild humiliations, too, with big laughs for payoffs about demanding stag weekends, Monica’s facial hair or massive prams among many other examples. Sometimes it’s simply the easily identifiable precision of the reference that gets the laugh, using ‘Nissan Sunny’, say, rather than any other marque.

These provide plenty of chuckles, and no one could come away thinking anything other than that Carr is a lovely, genuine man – but as a comedy tour, his Spexy Beast still needs to show more bite.

Review date: 12 Sep 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Centre

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