Stephen Grant: Up Front, Theatre Royal Brighton

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

There are not many relatively unknown circuit comics who could fill a theatre with 700 fans. Nor, in fact, are there many who would have the audacity to perform what is essentially an early Edinburgh Fringe preview to so large an audience

But this is Brighton, where Stephen Grant is comedy king. Years of hosting weekends at the Komedia club, and a new radio show on BBC Southern Counties Radio have earned him an enviable local fan base.

He, in turn, is proud of his roots in the city. His great-grandfather, he tells us, lived just 300 yards from this very venue, the Theatre Royal. In these days where every city is the same, it’s rare to find a comic with such strong geographical ties.

‘How many people are local?’ he asks to a huge cheer. ‘How many people have seen me before?’. Ditto. More surprising, perhaps, is that the number who haven’t is almost as large. Evidence that this isn’t just his friends and family gig, after all.

So Grant may be in his home town, but is he in his element? A full-sized theatre is, after all, a long way from a comedy club stage, and this is the first time he’s played such an imposing venue. In the early stages, he does indeed labour to build up some momentum, as his well-practised compering shtick struggles to unite such a vast room. Similarly, early gags elicit isolated pockets of titters, rather than a concerted wave of laughter he needs.

However, as he warms to his theme, the audience warms to him. They become more interested in what he has to say and as they become drawn into the thread of his arguments, the laughs solidify and we’re on our way.

His show is, to steal one of his punchlines to an entirely different gag, something of an anal adventure. Grant’s a geek and a pedant; a Lynn Truss of comedy who’s first instinct on seeing racist graffito is to correct its grammar, not take offence at the hateful sentiment.

What really riles him is sportsmen giving ‘110 per cent’, Christina Aguilera’s zero dress size and lazy tautology (I almost wrote ‘unnecessary tautology ’ there, which would have surely enraged a linguistic stickler like Grant).

You’d think that life was too short for this sort of petty obsession, but Grant’s argument is that for all the quack treatments promising to extend youth, one of the most effective ways to extend life is simply to be more efficient in thought, deeds and words. But the best way is to leave a legacy, either through children or some lasting achievement that will outlive you.

This theme takes second place to his material, and the show would be stronger and more coherent were the argument made stronger, and more frequently, rather than simply emerging whenever another hook for the next routine is required.

But some of those segments are impressive indeed, including an inspired deconstruction of You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin, the nit-picking row that led him to be ejected from a local pizzeria and a collection of his own, patented inventions that often seem like genuinely good ideas. There are, however, a couple of routines that drag his average down too, most notably a predictable spiel on fad diets and vegetarianism, but overall the standard is high.

For the most part, Grant raised his game to match the prestigious occasion. The grumpy young man persona fits him well, and he’s adapted the fluid delivery he’s perfected on the club circuit to what, for the most part, is interesting and witty material. He probably won’t be regularly filling theatres on the strength of this one-off Brighton Festival special, but it certainly marks a coming of age.

>Steve Bennett
May 22, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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