Merchant of mirth...

Kevin Unitt reviews Stephens Merchant and Carlin

Stephen Merchant has both actual and metaphorical stature, given his 6ft 7in frame and his box full of Baftas and Golden Globes.

Yet while it is impossible to ignore or forget either, it is almost reassuring to see his nervous animation as he takes to the stage, a platform he has not (yet) conquered.

Like writing partner Ricky Gervais before him, Merchant perhaps feels he now needs to take things back to the standard start, to pay his dues on the circuit if he is to be truly thought of as a comedian as well as a top writer and actor.

His show at the Windsor Arts Centre last night was billed as a work in progress, and it really is, but the makings of a special live show are already clear. While audience reactions will eventually dictate which gags remain and which are axed, the tangents of thought he runs with will be what ultimately make it a success.

He’s surprisingly ‘blue’ though, much more coarse than anyone who has followed his career would probably expect, and this initially takes you by surprise. Perhaps because he is among his fans, his people, and has nothing much to prove to an audience already sold on The Office, Extras and his radio shows, he is revelling in tearing up the preconceptions.

He even addresses the charge that he is tight with money, but as ever the mock arrogance quickly descends into self deprecation, him ending up the butt of his own joke. Elsewhere the gags themselves are funny, not bring-the-house-own hilarious, but amusing and certainly clever, with ample scope to be polished.

Yet although I came to see one Stephen strut his stuff, it was another who mesmerised me, his support act Stephen Carlin.

Somewhere between Richard Madeley engulfed in flames, with Carlin unable to piss on him only because its’ a public scene and he is shy, and debate about how a 93-year-old Adolf Hitler could possibly have appeared in his school photo, I warmed to this Scotsman, dressed smartly yet still somehow retaining all rights to scruffiness.

The whimsy and relaxed demeanour were instant winners, with lines like: \'I know, I cant believe that\'s the punchline of the joke either\' drawing warm appreciation, even howls of laughter, from the audience.

Classic comedy ground, such as serial killer Dennis Nielsen, more on Mr Hitler, and the lack of clear and concise safety strategy from Superman, were all devoured with glee.

The act excelled in pedantry, married to exceptional use of language. We only hoped for more, but alas, he was on his way, not even enjoying his own applause as he introduced the other Stephen…

But Carlin has more than enough in the locker to carry his own show, it seems.\r\n

Published: 6 Aug 2008

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