Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing? | Review of the comic at Soho Theatre
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Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing?

Review of the comic at Soho Theatre

Amid all the oddballs doing stand-up, Pierre Novellie seems like one of the most well-adjusted: eloquent, composed and wearing his Cambridge-educated sophistication as proudly as his velvet jacket. 

And – as Troy Hawke likewise proves – you can never be uncivil in a smoking jacket. South African-born Novellie is both polite and erudite as he takes apart life’s peculiarities.

Discussing British repression – and how we find an outlet in boozing to oblivion in a way no other nation does – may be a tried-and-tested staple of stand-up, but the elegant way Novellie does so makes this topic his own. He puts the ‘culture’ into ‘Britain’s out-of-control drinking culture’ as he describes the vomit-splattered carnage of a British town centre on a Saturday night with both a forensic wit and a florid turn of phase.

As he constantly has to explain to audiences, his name does not make him French. He’s not, but he’s supercilious enough that he could be.

Elsewhere in this classy hour he calls out more specific nonsenses, such as the gibberish in the fantasy novels he enjoyed in his youth, or a particularly baffling bit of urinal design that set him over-thinking. He does so with an authoritative style, his measured responses drawing out the hidden absurdity more gently than an exasperated rant.

In talking about his repeat visits to his local Persian barbers, he recalls little peculiarities in how they treat him each time, which gradually contribute to an increasingly surreal experience. So it is with Novellie’s set: small observations lead by subtle increments to being something more substantially funny.

The civility of his delivery also acts as an inherent misdirection, even beyond the juxtaposition of sophisticated style and low culture. When he suddenly drops a brutally direct word of phrase, it comes as a surprise, and so has heightened comic impact.

Could his meticulous mind and insight to spot when things don’t fit standard patterns have anything to do with the autistic spectrum disorder that he was recently diagnosed with, as he revealed at the end of his previous show? It’s probably impossible to say, but his condition sets him on course to address the titular question in the show’s closing segment.

His hypothesis is possibly not something to dwell too deeply on if you just want a laugh from your comedy. But, true to form, it’s thoughtful stuff, supported by a memorably amusing example.

Pierre Novellie is at Soho Theatre until April 6, then Bloomsbury Theatre on June 22 and a UK tour kicking off on October 4. Pierre ​Novellie tour dates,

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Review date: 28 Mar 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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