Darren Maskell Is A Woodlouse Trapped Under A Glass

Note: This review is from 2014

Review by Steve Bennett

It was an unusual bit of marketing. Darren Maskell invited Chortle to review of his show at the Leicester comedy festival by sending links to a couple of one-star reviews he received last Edinburgh, which branded the show ‘abysmal’ and ‘mind-numbingly bad’.

His argument was that the student critics didn’t understand his ‘subversive’, ‘experimental’ comedy – and that it would take someone with wider experience of watching stand-up to fully understand what he was trying to do.

What he was trying to do was clearly ‘anti-comedy’. What he actually achieved in doing was ‘not comedy’ – rather a crucial difference.

The possibly Kafka-inspired story running through the show was that he found himself in the position of the titular woodlouse trapped underneath a glass. There was no greater meaning than this, or if there was it was beyond me, but between other scenes he would read monotonously and falteringly from his account. Where you might expect punchlines, Maskell instead delivered self-conscious throat-clearing, weary exhales and hesitant ums, all greeted with a a patient silence from the audience.

He seems to have a morbid fear of doing anything that might be construed as ‘entertaining’, crushing any idea with potential under the weight of his apathy. When he threatens to tap into a vein of absurdity with his party trick involving an audience volunteer and a bottle of Ribena, its glacial pace and painstakingly awkward execution quickly drains the initial promise.

That nothing goes right for him is presumably the joke. But when, for example, he struggles in vain to get his sizeable frame into a home-made woodlouse suit, any potential slapstick is hidden, as he turns his back to us. All we see is a sleeping bag wriggle.

There’s a section deconstructing chat-up lines, which is sporadically funny, but it’s drowned out by his backing track, and a bit of business involving coat-hangers that threatens to venture into the Norman Lovett territory of finding comedy in nothing, but falls very short thanks to clumsy execution. And when it comes to his deliberately tedious and ever-so lengthy talk about cooking pasta and then loading the dishwasher, his intent seems to be to bore the audience. That might seem an oh-so clever meta-jape in theory, but in practice for those who have endure it, it’s probably best described as ‘mind-numbingly bad’.

Review date: 17 Feb 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Hansom Hall

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