Rhod Gilbert And The Giant Grapefruit | Review of the comedian's new tour about his cancer and its treatment © Andy Hollingworth
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Rhod Gilbert And The Giant Grapefruit

Review of the comedian's new tour about his cancer and its treatment

Rhod Gilbert And The Giant Grapefruit contains the most hilarious and life-affirming story about compacted faecal matter you’re ever likely to hear.

As most of his fans probably know, the comedian is in recovery from head and neck cancer. What they probably don’t know is that chronic constipation was just one consequence of the brutal treatment.

The physical and emotional toll his chemo and radiotherapy took was charted in last year’s powerful TV documentary A Pain In The Neck – and now comes the stand-up show to emphasise the funnier aspects of his extreme experiences. 

‘I’m alive!’ is his triumphant opening gambit, and the whole show exists to celebrate that underappreciated miracle that binds us all. Time and again, the 55-year-old assures us that the disease – or at least its successful, if awful, treatment – has deepened his connection to the world and renewed his faith in humanity.

That’s quite the existential shift for a comedian who made his mark for extravagantly sarcastic cynicism on such trivial matters as mince pies, duvets’ tog ratings and the power of torches. Now he must discuss the tumour that manifested in a lump the size of the titular fruit and which he feared would kill him in weeks.

Nor is this his first brush with health problems. His last show, in 2019, also charted a pretty miserable time in the comic’s life, dealing with the Alzheimer’s death of his mother, infertility and the mini-strokes that left him needing the services of a driver, John, who became his comedy foil.

Now John re-enters Gilbert’s life, ferrying him to the gruelling daily radiotherapy sessions and just as unbelievably stupid as before. He’s the perfect comic muse – acting and speaking with such cockeyed insanity that it only needs to be repeated to counter any heaviness in Gilbert’s anecdotes.

The comedian is clearly wary about dedicating a full 90 minutes to cancer and the first chunk of the show is a little unsteady as he finds his focus – a result of taking great strides to assure us that he’s not making light of cancer or anyone else’s experiences, only his own. And the joke that underpins it – that he thought he might get VIP treatment as a long-term fundraiser for Velindre, the Cardiff cancer treatment centre that treated him – is a bit laboured.

But puffing things to an insanely exaggerated degree is Gilbert’s superpower. Elsewhere he deploys it to impressive effect, such as that humiliating story of constipation and his DIY attempts to fix it that’s once heard, never forgotten – and guffaw-inducingly funny. 

Another rant, about Michael Douglas’s bizarre claims about his head and neck cancer both supposedly being caused and cured by cunnilingus, perfectly harnesses Gilbert’s ear for the absurd and splenetically passionate delivery.

He might still be going for regular check-ups and have a mouth that feels ‘as rough as pigeon’s feet’, but the cancer does not appear to have dulled the comic’s energy, as he rants and raves as much as ever.

And from those tentative early forays, by the second half Gilbert has relaxed the audience enough to engage them in crowd work about their various cancers, with playfully teasing comebacks sailing close to the wind but with enough smile and context to be defanged. A misplaced comment from the stalls or stage might derail the cheery tone, but Gilbert is more than skilled enough to dodge that. 

While The Giant Grapefruit focuses on the trivial, not the profound, there are some significant takeouts, from advice on what not to say to a cancer patient to the overwhelming tone of celebration that will leave you with a spring in your heart and – darkly ironic, this – a lump in your throat.

With Richard Herring, Janey Godley, Laura Smyth and soon, more than likely, Mark Steel, talking about cancer in their stand-up, the bar to create something special about such sensitive a subject is high… and Gilbert clears it easily.

» Rhod Gilbert And The Giant Grapefruit is on tour until November 2025.  Rhod Gilbert tour dates.

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Review date: 10 May 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Guildford G Live

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