Rhod Gilbert: The Man With The Flaming Battenberg Tattooo

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Stop the presses: Rhod Gilbert’s taken anger management courses. For a man who’s made such a name for himself from releasing unrelenting torrents of frustrated rage, this could be career suicide.

‘I’ve changed,’ he says. ‘Calmed down. I always pretended what I do on stage was a character, petty and contrary. This is the first time I’ve admitted what I’m really like.’ And yep, turns out it was no ‘character’ – though of course it’s still the stage persona telling us this…

He’s learned to ‘let go of the balloon’ of wrath, he says, after being made to keep a diary of everything that wound him up, and in it write down what he could have done differently to defuse each situation. But – wouldn’t you know it – that just means he now has documentary evidence of all the petty annoyances that routinely reduced him to Victor Meldrew levels of agitation.

And, boy, are there are lot: electricians who repeatedly fail to show up, then botch the job; the marketing nonsense surrounding shower gel; over-packaged groceries in the supermarket; needlessly over-engineered toothbrushes; First Great Western and their ‘travelling chefs’; Ryanair and Red Hen (a fast-food joint described as ‘Wimpy with herpes’) to name but a few.

In all these outbursts, you can’t deny that he has a point, largely attacking the logic-defying jobsworths who put policy over common sense, or the marketing bullshit that makes everything more complicated and expensive than it needs to be. His stand against such nonsense is to be applauded – even though, as his girlfriend is all-too well aware, it makes him a nightmare to live with.

We get a sense of this early in the second half, when he argues that forwards is backwards just to pick an unconvincingly pedantic argument with the audience on the all-important subject of toilet doors. It’s quite a frustrating few minutes to watch, as he digs his heels in, but for some the outrage at his suggestion is so great, a vocal argument rings through the auditorium.

Of course, Gilbert isn’t one to just mumble under his breath how ridiculous things are, instead he engages in dogged debate with Tesco Metro managers, train guards and the like, his journal detailing every volley in the to-and-fro. He’s even taken to writing letters of complaint to some of the companies that sparked his misery, fighting the absurd with the absurd. And cleverly he chooses to read out only their reply, allowing the preposterous nature of his complaint to slowly reveal itself.

How genuine these set pieces are is immaterial; they are hilarious tour-de-force rants, fuelled by a righteous rage against a world gone mad. And they are set against the background of his relationship, volatile yet stuck in a rut, forever repeating a cycles of argument and adoration.

One row concerned the titular tattoo, which he got while recording his BBC Two series Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience. With typical misguided pride, he chose a ridiculous image to ‘prove’ how stupid the idea of body art was. His partner, on the other hand, thought that if he was going to permanently mark his body, it should at least be we something that honoured their love.

Attempts to resolve that relationship, one way or another, provide the narrative drive, but Gilbert’s a bit too easily distracted. Away from the superlative routines he gets embroiled in some workaday crowd work and sometimes splutters over a link that should only need a sentence, but ends up taking a paragraph or two. There are some laughs in this but – in a increasingly common trait among all comedians – it makes for a needlessly long night. This 8pm show comes down around 11pm – when a 30 or even 45 minute cut (the forthcoming DVD version, maybe?) would sharpen things up no end.

Yet that doesn’t diminish the fact that when he’s in full flow, Gilbert is a mesmerising dervish of outrage, picking apart indefensible stupidities, and showing them up to be laughable. Let’s hope his anger management doesn’t put a stop to him fighting the good – and hilarious – fight.

Review date: 4 Oct 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Guildford G Live

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