Lee Evans: Roadrunner

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

As an early adopter of arena comedy, Lee Evans knows he has to shovel industrial quantities energy and enthusiasm into his every move, performing with a power that will transmit to the back of the vast auditorium.

Yet for all that passion, he often comes across as a bit, well... dull, no matter how much he sweats over his act.

Sure, there are some fine displays of comic business in this new Roadrunner tour – a few great jokes, and that potent physically in face and limbs alike which brings the scenes he describes to life with a real spark – but he spends the best part of his two-and-a-half hour show (three if you count the interval) telling you things you already know, with such predictability that it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm for the one-man sketches which surround them. Without at least some element of surprise, surely a joke is not a joke?

Of two phrases he overuses, ‘Have you ever noticed...’ is the one that’s most often redundant, as if any of the observations he serves up could have passed anyone’s notice. Ikea furniture has weird Swedish names and is difficult to carry, estate agents are awful, and EasyJet’s a nightmare and its stewardesses doused in fake tan...

He doesn’t illuminate, but simply reflects the audience’s life back at them. And it is most definitely the audience’s life, not his own. Evans might not be the most showbizzy of the millionaire comedians, but are we really to believe his frustration with solicitors comes because he’s trying to buy a ‘two up, two down’, as he asserts? It’s all part of the no-nonsense Essex Everyman image he always projects, dining at Nando’s and taking that budget flight so he can holiday in Tenerife.

There’s also a slightly ungracious side to that easily wound-up persona. Simply making a gap in a queue so people can cross it makes him spit bile, so you can imagine how upset he gets at bankers – certainly far too upset to do anything more imaginative than call them muggers, to hearty cheers from the roused rabble.

Though he has a genuinely warm character, in his material he hates pretty much everything, becoming almost fascistic in his intolerance. For instance, he despises people who sneeze too loudly – and people who sneeze too softly.

Which brings us to the second phrase he over-uses: ‘Fuck off’, an expression of frustration that often sits where a joke should be. His angry disapproval strikes a chord with the rest of the arena, and wins him empathy, without needing to extrapolate.

That affinity, of course, is what means he can sell hundreds of thousands of seats the moment his tour’s announced (The man entering Wembley ahead of me apologised for his dog-eared ticket, explaining he’d had it for more than a year). And also why he will never change.

Yet all is not predictable. He has a few thoroughly entertaining stories here that make full use of his talents, such as his description of changing a flat tyre, and acting out the crushing, angry dismay at his own incompetence. The key here, perhaps, is the rage goes inwards, not outwards.

There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about Evans’s deft physicality, and scenes like this really showcase it. At his best, he conjures up a single-frame cartoon in real life form, such as his image of an athlete cheating at the high jump, or an adult ill-advisedly jumping on one at a kids’ playground.

His impression of a digital satellite signal breaking up is hugely impressive, while his performance is so convincing that he can make 10,000 people flinch in disgust when he mimes eating an imaginary bogie.

There’s some fine - but too thinly spread - dexterity in the writing, too, with some splendidly evocative metaphors, and the odd quick set-up-punchline gag you can take home with you. And the routine on immigration is both deft and possibly the only time in the whole evening when he expresses an opinion with which some people might disagree. It’s so much better for him sticking his neck out, even slightly, for something more than complaining grouchily about how loud the music is in HMV these days.

There’s plenty of dull grumbles like this, often with little payoff.. His gag about What Not To Wear, for example, is ‘Gok? Cock more like!’, not only delivered as if it’s a work of comic genius, but received with an actual applause break. Heaven help us.

His closer treads a slightly familiar path for comics of a certain age - having a colonoscopy – but it is an ideal showcase for his physical comedy, combined with a case of scatology that can’t fail. As is now tradition he follows this with a schmaltzy song – this time about the troubadour clown sacrificing his life for the laughs – and the obligatory Bohemian Rhapsody mime. A Lee Evans gig without this would be like a Rolling Stones gig without Satisfaction.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much satisfaction from the rest of the comedy, despite Evans’s obvious talents, but a hell of a lot of people did.

Review date: 16 Sep 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: SSE Arena Wembley

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