Simon Day: What A Fool Believes

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

‘My wife persuaded me to do this tour,’ says Fast Show star Simon Day near the beginning of his first stand-up show not to rely on characters. ‘Now I’m fucking stuck with it.’

It’s a nicely self-deprecating line, but also one that reveals more than a grain of truth: that this meandering, low-key show lacks any sense of purpose, beyond a bloke chatting relatively amiably about this and that. Ironically for the creator of pub bore Billy Bleach, this is pretty much run-of-the-mill bar-room chat, occasionally offering a neat line or flirting with the promise of some interesting insight, but never fully delivering.

This is supposed to be a personal show, as Day emerges from the mask of his characters, and so he begins with a fairly linear autobiography, telling of how he was brought up in South London in the Sixties under the shadow of his perfect brother. There are a few childhood reminiscences – a story about emulating his hero Mr T starts very well but quickly runs out momentum – and easy nostalgia of the ‘anyone remember Teasmades?’ variety. But what would make pleasant enough anecdotes for the chat-show circuit lack the comic punch to get the admittedly rather sparse Reading audience laughing in the aisles.

There are tantalising glimpses of the personal: he used to be a bed-wetter, which yields some decent material, yet he pulls away from getting too revelatory about other issues such as his depression, the fact he was bullied at school, the IVF treatment his wife underwent, or the fact he suffered attention-deficit disorder. For the latter, for instance, he takes refuge in the easy, generic gags about middle-class parents seeking pseudo-medical excuses for their children’s bad behaviour, rather than talking too deeply about his own experiences. These sections feel like early therapy sessions: you feel he wants to open up more, but, frustratingly, he doesn’t yet feel confident or relaxed enough to do so.

Instead, he switches to safer observational material, delivered with a fashionably sneery attitude: Isn’t the circus rubbish? Don’t you hate those charity collectors? How can you tell real mad people talking to themselves from people talking on Bluetooth headsets? It varies from the good to the bland, with a few stand-out lines, but generally he can’t match the standard you’d expect to hear at most decent comedy clubs.

Despite his pledge not to hide behind characters, Day conjures up a fair few over the course of the show, from Nigerian traffic wardens and bouncy Australian gardeners to anthropomorphic animals, which bring mediocre material to life more than his own deadpan voice ever could. You can see why he chose the comedic route he did.

There is, too, a segment about his profession, starting from the usual decrying of the fact everyone wants to be famous these days, before moving on to describing how every actor envies every other. But true to the prevailing spirit of he evening, this feels like his preliminary notes on the subject, yet to be sharpened into a compelling train of thought and packaged with funny one-liners and genuine attitude. Aside from a couple of entertaining poems that bookend his stand-up, Day only truly comes to life when he lets his guard down, and makes a seemingly unscripted, indiscrete remark.

He delivers a few smiles, but overall this fells like an under-prepared, ill-focussed offering; promising enough to suggest it might eventually gel into something more substantial but still feeling like a work in progress. Not so much a Fast Show, but a decidedly sluggish one.

Notch up another on the tally of underwhelming shows from out-of-form bigger names touring this autumn.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reading, November 2008

Review date: 1 Nov 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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