Tim Vine: Joke-amotive tour

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Comedians, by and large, present their art surprisingly seriously. The storytellers and observationalists want to come across as the Everyman; while the philosophers and activists remain earnest about the message on which they hang the gags. The trend is such that even pun-mongers these days tend to present their work deadpan, as if each one-liner is a beautiful creation only to be appreciated in isolation.

But Tim Vine is one of the few holding up the music-hall tradition of being recklessly daft. He makes no pretence of the fact that his entire existence – at least on stage – is utterly preposterous. The wordplay is flagged up as cheap tat, but he’ll bang it out regardless, with a cheery acknowledgement of the dubious quality of the entertainment he’s offering.

It’s a disarming stance. You may enter the auditorium worried about the impression you give to the world and your peers, but a few minutes watching the idiot on stage, dressed in a crimson soldier’s tunic and a hat made out of balls of wool, and you can forget such trappings – you’re never going to look as stupid as that, so relax. Vine’s done his job, making the mundane concerns of day-to-day life evaporate.

His audience buy into this pantomime, too. And pantomime it is. The expected response is to groan, or sometimes cheer, the gags, and the crowd oblige. It will come as no surprise to learn that he’s just finished a stint in Snow White at the Richmond Theatre.

Much of the material is so cheesy he should be sponsored by Babybel. ‘What do you call a bundle of hay in a church? Christian Bale!’ But the force of the onslaught is disarming; the gags come at you like a volley of machine-gun fire, and you can’t avoid them all. Gradually the ‘wa-hays’ yield to more impulsive laughter, as the audience start enjoying this verbal clowning for real, and not just ironically.

For all the contrived, laboured wordplay, there are also some genuine gems in the mix, brilliantly concise gags that shine brightly. He acknowledges the fact that his method is to throw enough mud at the wall and hope enough sticks; but it’s clear despite his Knockabout stage manner, he takes the task of gag-writing seriously. This is an hour and a bit’s worth of new gags, and you’ve got to admire his punmanship.

His is, of course, famously the only comedian to be inadvertently plagiarised by the dead, with many of his gags winding up attributed to Tommy Cooper. His style is, indeed, very similar, save for the magic element which comes from his ever-faithful support act John Archer.

Added to the mix are snippets of tacky songs and a bag so stuffed full of cheap props it must trigger an excess baggage charge. Here’s a phone with meringues stuck to the receiver, here’s a papier mache mountain, here’s a card with BNAG written on it – that’s bang out of order. There’s even a rubber chicken, how corny and unfashionable is that? But that’s Vine for you.

He revels in the shambles of it all, and sometimes it seems like his catchphrase is ‘I’d hoped that would get a better laugh…’ which he seamlessly integrates into his daft shtick. Sometimes he slides into the unprofessional as he looks through his sheath of notes to see which of his hundreds of gags he’s not yet got to, causing a lull in his otherwise full-throttle delivery, but hopefully that’ll be cured as the tour progresses.

There’s definitely an art behind his nonsense – a fact that’s highlighted by his audacious party piece: pen behind the ear. This is a man who should know better trying, and repeatedly failing to pull off a trick that, realistically, is unspectacular even when he does succeed. There’s no joke to it, but it’s marvellously entertaining and the audience cheer him on as if he were a British Wimbledon hope. Had this been done by a more ‘serious’ comedian, it would be hailed as a daring avant-garde piece. Instead, it’s Knockabout high-jinks.

Die-hard Vine fans will also be pleased to see the brief return of Flag Hippo in the closing moments of the show, for one quick joke. You might think it’s a lot of effort to go to for a single laugh – but Vine would never think like that; for him nothing’s too much trouble for a chuckle. And that’s his irresistible charm.

Review date: 1 Feb 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Dorking Halls

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