Jack Dee at Kilkenny's Cat Laughs festival

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Jack Dee is preparing his first stand-up tour in six years – and if this preview at the Cat Laughs festival in Kilkenny is anything to go by, fans are in for a treat. And something of a surprise.

For the notorious grouch diverts from his usual deadpan in his well-deserved encore, as he brings a guitar on stage.

But he’s not going to suddenly turn the gig into a jaunty singalong. His singing technique is almost as morose as his stand-up, meaning he pulls off a passable approximation to a world-weary bluesman as he complains about the various dead-end jobs he did before finding an escape in comedy.

For the previous 75 minutes or so, he diverts little from the gloomily misanthropic demeanour we’ve come to expect. ‘This is the worst year of my life so far,’ he sighs as he walks on stage, setting up a beautifully timed opening gag that relies on no more than the slightest change in his hangdog expression for its punchline.

With Dee, attitude is all. At one part, he almost causes himself to chuckle at some improvised crowd work. ‘If I laugh, I’m fucked,’ he acknowledges. ‘I’ve nothing left…’

With his suit and loosened tie, he has the bedraggled bearing of a frazzled businessman just out of a soul-crushing four-hour meeting on sales forecasting software integration, then forced to engage in discussion about the school run roster.

‘So what?’ is his new catchphrase, encapsulating his sneering lack of interest in the depressing trivialities of this miserable world full of fools and timewasters. Idiots with their smartphones, idiots with their futile sports, idiots who believe 9/11 conspiracy theories… it’s no shock to discover he’s little time for any of them, and are all dismissed with sarcastic, witty putdowns.

Closer to home, he has first-hand experience of teenage children, and especially the manipulative techniques of his daughter. Needless to say, the travails of being a parent do not bring much joy into his life.

Yet elsewhere, he sidesteps the personal completely. He does sizeable chunks poo-poohing the government’s recommended drinking levels, without mentioning his own well-publicised problems with alcohol. Heartfelt confession is not his style – his focus is everyone else, and their failings that, in his blinkered view, contributes to his frustrated existence.

There are a couple of missteps, especially the routine about Jesus’s undocumented teenage years, which has been done to death, reborn and death again. And always with the Messiah sulkily harrumphing ‘You’re not my real dad’ to Joseph.

That aside, Dee has blossomed, rather than withered, from his fallow time away from the stage. After all, that’s six years of bile that now needs to be vented.

Review date: 5 Jun 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Kilkenny Langtons

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