Spastics? I bloody love 'em

Stuart Forbes reviews Daniel Kitson

‘If Kitson comes on without a Mind T-shirt he hates the mentally ill,’ Stuart Goldsmith tells the crowd at Monday’s comedy night in aid of mental health charity Mind.

Twenty minutes later and headlining act, Daniel Kitson, is on stage at the Leicester Square Theatre. ‘No one tells me that I don’t like the spastics,’ he says, unzipping a faded blue hoodie top to show off a brilliant-blue Mind T-shirt. ‘I bloody love ‘em.’

This ostensibly offensive revelation was repeated intermittently throughout the set, each time accompanied by an excellent visual gag in which the Perrier Award winner would unpeel a mind t-shirt to reveal yet another underneath. I counted five before he was down to the last, sweat drenched layer.

Pre-empted up by an eclectic and talented line-up that expounded on such diverse subjects as race, class, anthropomorphic pets and the grammatical inaccuracies of popular music, Kitson rightfully stole the show, delighting the crowd with a 45-minute performance of rambling narrative and discerning intelligence.

It didn’t all go to plan. Kitson was forced into some chaotic improvisation early into his set, as he became embroiled in a five minute bout of tug of war for a mobile phone that a man on the front row had apparently used to film him.

‘Give him your bloody phone!’ the audience cried.

‘There’s only one reason he won’t give me his phone and that’s if there’s pictures of children on it,’ quipped Kitson.

Even when ruffled – apparently a fever was troubling him every bit as much as the phone debacle - Kitson carries the audience on a tide of sharp observation and casual one-liners, from the simple (‘It’s a disgrace – bankers getting boners while we’re all struggling..’) to the quizzical (‘Can things ever be absolutely mediocre?’).

The improv was excellent: confident, natural, knowing and hysterical. Kitson possesses a superb comedic talent. Every gesture, every nuanced movement, one-liner, quip, observation or pause is imbued with a lucid intelligence and inclusive charisma. A pronounced stutter only serves to endear him to his audience and gives him a human vulnerability that is a welcome relief to the oil-slick aura of impenetrability exuded by so many comics on the circuit.

His movement conveys a natural presence and a confident purpose that seems in no way contrived. It is instinctive and each step displays a masterful on-stage naturalism. I doubt he is aware of the value his movement adds to his performance. But make no mistake: it adds value. Kitson moves like a true comic. No athlete, he commands the stage like it’s his front room or favourite pub. There is a real ale quality to him. He looks like he should be the president of Camra.

Looking turgid in his outfit of jogger’s top, jeans and trainers, Kitson’s performance was cheered like that of a returning hero or prodigal son. His glasses, belly, balding head, Marxian beard and probing train of thought instil a lightly didactic air to his performance. He’s trying to tell us something. He looks and talks like the best kind of English professor. The kind that locks itself in the memory as a paradigm of good humour and intelligence.

The theme of his set seemed to be the boundaries of offensive language – is it ever acceptable to say something racist? Even to a friend?

Prince Harry’s recent indiscretions and the context given to it by his military service – ‘let’s let him get off on the old racism so he can kill people on our behalf’ - led to a wonderful summary of the English National Anthem – ‘There’s an old woman, who lives in a castle, let’s all get together and sing, “Dear god can you please look after her?’”

But it was with a story about Kitson and his mate Gavin hurling racist abuse at each other over games of football on the PayStation – using offensive language that neither one of them found offensive given its playful context – that is Kitson at his best. He seems at once thoughtful, selective and at the same time rapt with impatient enthusiasm to share a funny tale with a crowd of strangers.

Kitson appears to let his mind wander, constantly asking questions, constantly coming back to the idea that context sets the boundaries for what is acceptable.

If Kitson seemed rushed towards the very end – ‘I’ve started a bit of material that’s got a narrative of approximately four days…’ – we can forgive him for the infectious abandon with which he paints a story and the always honest, always hilarious thought processes he displays to his audience.

Kitson was given exceptional support from the excellent Will Hodgson, Stuart Goldsmith, James Sherwood, Paul Sinha and an indefatigable compere performance from brash Jack Black lookalike, Charlie Baker.

If this standard of line-up is maintained, the Mind comedy nights – of which it is hoped this is the first of many – are going to become essential viewing.

Published: 20 Feb 2009

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