Sarah Millican's Not Nice
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2008
Winner of the if.comedy best newcomer prize
Sarah Millican tells the truth. About her divorce, about fancying gorillas and about being thrown off the Asda Shuttlebus.
Sarah Millican may look quite sweet, and she certainly sounds that way… but as this show’s title gives away, that’s an utterly deceptive image.
She’s not nice two ways: because she is, in her own words, ‘a bit of a cow’, and because her material can be utterly filthy. Her lilting North East accent sugar-coats everything from sex toys to coprophilia, giving an illusion of gentle charm to the crudest of material.
But these are not subjects anyone brings up immediately, so this Edinburgh debutante builds to them gradually. She opens with a couple of dubious taste gags to test the water, but the real start is the tried-and-tested – and much less offensive - material about her divorce that she’s been honing over her three years on the circuit. The vivid pictures she paints of the pain, unsalved by her father’s casual doom-mongering, bring a hefty dose of reality to her jokes.
And, my, has she got jokes. Tim Vine aside, she surely has one of the highest gags-per-minute counts on the Fringe, with punchlines arriving every few beats with unwavering punctually. The effect of such a onslaught is irresistible, and laughs come thick and fast.
It doesn’t take long to head below the belt, which is where we reside for most of the hour. Her material is, in a way, almost blokeish, with its ceaseless references to bad sex and masturbation. This sounds like the recipe for obvious knob-gag comedy, but Millican has a frank, self-effacing manner and an obtuse approach to writing that avoids the clichés and refreshes the genre.
She quizzes the audience about their sex lives, about whether they employ food, talking dirty or dressing up – and is greeted by either coy reticence or, more worryingly, an overenthusiastic volunteering of information. But she rolls with what’s thrown at her, and never lets the show go off track.
Although she has a generally unromantic view of relationships, of children, and of life itself, a note of optimism – albeit pragmatic optimism - does emerge at the end, as she concedes that she is happy in her new relationship.
It all adds to the feeling that her stand-up is based on real experiences, not contrived for the sake of a gag. It’s how she avoids clichés, and stays likeable, all contributing to what is an impressive, and consistently funny, festival debut.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett