...but as not as we know it

It's one of the hottest days of the year and I'm driving, roof down, stereo up, across rolling Dorset landscape towards the seaside. But there's a dark cloud on this perfect day, For the reason for my journey is to see a show by one of the most notorious betes noires in comedy - Jim Davidson.

The first thing of note is that Davidson doesn't quite have the pulling power he's reputed to. The soulless Bournemouth International Centre where he's installed for a Sunday-night summer season is barely half full - that still means an audience of several hundred, which most comics would covet, but it's not overly impressive.

Given his reputation, it's no surprise that every one of us is white. The average age is probably a little over Davidson's 49 years - and many beat that by several decades.

It's an incongruous sight seeing these pensioners take such delight in some of Davidson's baser material. Though billed as risque, it's probably some of the most gratuitously gynaecological routines you'll hear on any comedy stage. And to think Davidson's generation of traditional comics were once shocked when the alternative comics started talking frankly about sex.

Though he would probably be loathe to admit it, that's not the only thing Davdison has learned from the newer scene. The show is noticeably lacking in bar-room gags learned off pat. Instead, it's all passionate diatribes and personal anecdotes - a style that would easily fit the younger circuit, even if the content wouldn't.

First the surprising part: some of this is genuinely funny and inoffensive. Less surprisingly, most of it isn't Davidson has an on-stage presence that is - well, hardly likeable or charming - but compelling at least. He's got attitude and conviction, and it's hard not to listen, even despite yourself.

And, when properly focussed, that passion does make for some good comedy. His rage at traffic cameras - and his ingenious way to beat them - is a funny routine, even if he does overstretch it, and his encounters with the boys in blue provide some unexpectedly witty anecdotes, whether fabricated or not.

In these tales, though, the best moments are when Davidson is the butt of the jokes. But these are rare. All too often he's the strutting bully, finding laughs in demeaning others.

A couple of harmless quips about maintenance bills to ex-wives, for example, quickly degenerate into bitter, misogynistic and somewhat uncomfortable rants. Similarly, some of his sexist jibes are clearly just designed to bait the female members of his audience, while others have a distinct undercurrent of nastiness. Here's a man with irony deficiency.

In the stereotype of Davidson's style, sexism is inextricably linked with racism. And there were a couple of subtle - insidious? - comments along those lines that make the liberal nerves clench.

"We should have different Olympics for black people," was the most shocking moment of blatant apartheid, though it really only acted as a springboard for a pedestrian "white athletes are crap " routine to tie in with the Commonwealth Games. More odious was that on the two occasions he wanted to ridicule an officious official he would characterise his target with a cod Asian accent.

Otherwise he only racial stereotype Davidson returned to was that black men are well-endowed, presumably on the grounds that no one would object to being included in that generalisation. Whether it's the modern equivalent of 'well, they've got a wonderful sense of rhythm' is a tricker issue.

Davidson wears his right-wing credentials on his sleeve, moaning that the BBC only sacked him from the Generation Game 'because I vote Conservative', and including a couple of reactionary routines - the oddest bemoaning democracy as a failure because the vote of someone who contributes a lot financially to the country (ie a rich man) has the same weight as someone who takes from it (ie a poor man).

Mostly, though, he would mention a few touchstones of the right - jailed Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, immigration, anti-European sentiment - just for effect. In the same way mediocre comics at the birth of the alternative scene could win applause and empathy merely by mentioning the word 'Thatcher', Davidson panders to his audience's political convictions. But these are asides, rather than the whole agenda, and you will hear more extreme views in the pages of the Daily Mail than Davidson spouts on stage.

Though there may be a couple of lines bordering on the offensive, there isn't anything sickening here. Comedy-wise it's an OK hour - sometimes funny, sometimes not, and let down as much by Davidson's eagerness to head for the genitals rather than the brain as it is by his reactionary outlook.

Davidson may be a terrrible human being, but that doesn't necessarily make him a terrible comic.

Steve Bennett July 29, 2002

Published: 6 Sep 2006

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