Dave Cohen: Songs In A Flat

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

As shows go, this could barely be more modest; a mild-mannered middle-aged man with an acoustic guitar strumming comic songs in an underpowered pub-rock style, with no grand underlying theme.

Dave Cohen seems gauche and self-conscious when he tries to whoop up the audience – and this is a busy (and surprisingly frisky) first night crowd. His awkwardness with a normal fringe theatre audience, which can easily be in the single digits, can only be imagined.

Yet from such unprepossessing beginnings Cohen builds up a head of steam. While the performance may be little to get excited about, as a writer he knows exactly what he’s doing, with gag-strewn lyrics enhanced by the musical delivery – rather melodies being used merely to shore up ailing, obvious comedy.

And so his writing should be polished. He’s been around for decades, starting in the punk age and describing himself as ‘THE most averagely successful comedian of the Eighties and Nineties’. Although he took the best part of two decades off from stand-up – starting his comeback about a year ago – he has an impressive CV, ranging from Spitting Image, to the British Comedy Award-winning children’s show Horrible Histories, providing songs for both.

The sardonic From All In This Together, which takes on the easy but well-deserved target of George Osborn’s cuts, wouldn’t be out of place in the erstwhile puppet-based satire, just one moment when his left-leaning politics peek out. And from his more recent telly job, his jaunty tunes and playful use of language appeal to a childish love of a stupid joke. He’s not above a forced rhyme or cheesy pun, but positively celebrates the fact – inviting us to be impressed at his ingenuity, much as we might groan at the way he manipulates language into these misshapen lumps.

It’s an essential part of his shtick that he’s well aware of his limitations, from his partial deafness that makes heckler response awkward to the knowing ‘mea culpa’ look when he’s taken a liberty with a rhyming structure. The very opening song is an Eminem My Name Is parody, and if you think a 53-year-old Jew attempting rap is embarrassing, well that is the whole point of the song. It’s not his best, but sets out his stall, and the show builds steadily and assuredly from there.

I mention his semitic heritage, as he makes much of it – and very effectively so. He used to be in a spoof heavy metal outfit called Guns N Moses, and here resurrects their ‘hit’ Sin In The Synagogue, rich with knowing Biblical references and tongue-in-cheek stereotypes. No that Cohen’s practising the religion – as proved by another song which is a joyous paean to pork. Think a meat-based version of Tim Minchin’s Cheese.

Banter between the songs doesn’t amount to much with Cohen seeming to have little confidence in the stand-alone chat – and not without reason, as this father of a five-year-old can be close to ‘dad gag’ territory.

But he has a few musical quickies up his sleeve to get out of this, and he demonstrates an oratorial skill he previously hid under a bushel with the patriotic rhetoric about the less-frequently celebrated aspects of British life that (almost) closes the show.

The stirring music beneath this might manipulatively swell our pride, but it’s a classy piece of work: funny, purposeful and passionate – with a fantastic punchline. You don’t see many gags taking a pop at medieval parliament-inventor Simon De Montfort… but that’s what you get from working on Horrible Histories.

Review date: 9 Mar 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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