Jonny Pelham: An Hour on NextUp | On-demand review by Jay Richardson

Jonny Pelham: An Hour on NextUp

Note: This review is from 2017

On-demand review by Jay Richardson

Jonny Pelham begins by describing himself as 'quite a weird man', effectively conflating his body quirks with his personality.

That's an interesting approach and no doubt gives his therapist parents plenty to chew on. Because ostensibly, he appears to have resisted outsider status throughout his life, from the happy-clappy summer camp that patronisingly sought to define him as 'brave', to a well-meaning but inept NHS, informing a previously content teenager that he was deformed and required corrective facial surgery.

Pelham was born with popliteal pterygium syndrome, which affects around 200 people in the UK and comes with a comically rich assortment of physical abnormalities. His take on them is wry and relatively detached now, looking back on his younger self from the viewpoint of a twenty-something who's successfully lost his virginity.

Still, he's able to draw upon a little of that horny teenage angst and the insensitivity of others, with the classmate who cited his body as a trump card in her theological debate being particularly culpable. Typically, he absorbs and owns the insult, wringing it for laughs with retrospective incredulity, before using it as inspiration for an unlikely bit of ISIS-related whimsy.

Brought up in Bradford, one of the few white kids in a multi-ethnic school, he's had an intriguing insider-outsider relationship with race too, briefly and superficially converting to Islam just to join in. 

He became part of the 'Blazing Bangladeshis' gang, outwardly sticking out like a sore thumb and playing with some of the twisted, inverted logic of the racist. With precision satire, he recalls thoroughly researching and educating himself about his classmates' backgrounds, if only to be more culturally correct in his petty xenophobia.

Equally compelling is his approach to those apex bogeymen and women, paedophiles, his mother's work with non-offending adults who actively struggle to contain their sexual thoughts about children introducing a rare and humanising pathos for them, hilariously paid off in his empathy with them as an insecure, tongue-tied adolescent.

That said, I'm not fully convinced his thoughtfulness on the subject justifies a more deliberately risqué routine about male and female paedophiles contrasting modus operandi, even as a relatively fresh angle on the differences between men and women. As with his excessive dismissal of Taylor Swift, Pelham is knowingly heavy-handed and contrarian in flexing his argumentative reason and it feels a little showy and hollow, devoid of inherent truth.

As someone who's had insight into all kinds of health workers, physicians of both the body and mind, he's sceptical about medicine and psychotherapy. Yet he retains an interrogative, second-guessing approach to his own thoughts, checking himself on his dubious motivations for engaging with celebrities like Princess Eugenie or ex-footballer Sol Campbell.

Similar is a chance he passed up to become a have-a-go hero for a stranger he'd become infatuated with, his inaction contrasting with his racing romantic fantasies. This example of craven self-interest overcoming chivalry recurs in his current relationship, his best intentions for his girlfriend's happiness qualified by a selfish need for her to still need him.

Dryly encapsulating an entire relationship into one pithy joke, Pelham's droll self-deprecation and analytical distance is undoubtedly a strength. But his artful intelligence and relative subtlety doesn't always have the impact it might. You'd hope that as he matures as a storyteller, he might be able to more consistently convey the emotional immediacy of an incident, as he does in his punchier tales.

Drawn from his 2015 Edinburgh Fringe debut, An Hour is in fact a compact 47 minutes with a couple of the edits feeling slightly abrupt. That's even after his express wish to cut a routine in which a good joke falls flat is ignored. 

Nevertheless, this is an impressive introduction from a comic who retains an everyman appeal precisely because of his honest admission of despicability and weirdness.

• Jonny  Pelham: An Hour is available to view on NextUp here.

Review date: 18 Sep 2017
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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