Greg Davies review – supremely silly standup shouts the unsayable

Greg Davies has got a trigger warning at the start of his show for every section of his fanbase. If you love him for The Inbetweeners or Man Down, you’ll be fine. Fans of Taskmaster – and of Cuckoo, even more so – may find his outre stage persona hotter to handle. This is big, delinquent and often blue comedy from the former We Are Klang man. The material would seem juvenile from a performer half his age (he’s 49), but it is largely redeemed by Davies’ infectious sense of fun and of his own ridiculousness. Life is forever ambushing this arrested developer with more evidence of his own and other people’s flamboyant idiocy – and his eagerness to share his findings is easy to submit to.

I’d call him the Peter Pan of comedy, but – what with all the farting and wanking gags – the JM Barrie estate might demur. At any rate, he gleefully avoids the road well travelled by middle-aged comics, towards world weariness and carping about how distasteful young people are. His stock-in-trade remains jokes about his mum and dad, which is good going for a near 50-year-old, the more so given that his dad died three years ago – a bereavement from which his standup show You Magnificent Beast draws its modest emotional charge. It culminates in a musical tribute to Davies’ eccentric father. But before then it’s bound only by a tenuous motif about how each of us is judged on things we might not expect and cannot control.

Flamboyant idiocy … Greg Davies

That is a loose enough conceit to accommodate pretty much any gag or shaggy-dog story Davies wants to tell, from the one about his widowed mother buying sex toys to the one about Chris Eubank reciting self-penned poetry to schoolchildren. The mum material kicks off the show: a battery of “funny things my mother said”, the funniness of which is almost incidental given Davies’ emphatic way of getting us to the laugh. First he claims she’s banned him from telling these stories. Next he is tittering all the way through the setup. Then he pauses to warn us how outrageous the punchline is going to be. Then he delivers it as if a geyser’s burst. In which context, whether his mum’s remarks are amusing is neither here nor there.

It is easy to believe Davies is genuinely amused by this stuff: every joke comes with his own barely suppressed laughter, and usually that feels less like manipulation than honest response. Whether the stories themselves are honest, who knows? Some have the tang of truth, like the outrageous one about Blue Ted, the homemade stuffed toy that his mum manufactured for young Greg one Christmas – and with whom adolescent Greg formed an unexpected relationship. Or, in a similar vein of ruthless self-exposure, the one about shaving his pubes recently, amassing a heap of “burnt tinsel” on a hotel-room floor.

I believed that; I didn’t believe the top-up gag, about sharing post-shave images with an old woman in a London park. Which is an issue, to the degree that Davies’ comedy draws its charge from its confessional quality. That is certainly part of the appeal of a brand of humour that says – shouts, even – the unsayable, that makes public what the rest of us would die to keep private. Elsewhere, Davies mainlines plain silliness, as with the sequence about ignorant things his friends have said: cue a heavily sardonic role-play starring a noisy fly.

There are longueurs. The tales of his teaching life are droll but broad, and long-time Davies watchers may feel they’ve heard them before. There is an anecdote in which our host gets seduced by a Bristolian hammer thrower, which ends on a potently unromantic image but takes a very long and crude time to get there. Another section draws (not unusually for standup) on the indignities of the medical check-up – which, in the hands of a certain “Doctor Dick-lifter”, shaded into sexual assault, claims a dismayed Davies. Characteristically, he makes no reference whatsoever to the topicality of that subject matter.

For that would be to admit the existence of an adult world with its hard realities – and that’s not Davies’ habitat, save for the show’s final section, which remembers the final days of his dad’s life. It was the worst of times, he admits, but even then life’s giddy comedy made its presence felt, in the stories a male nurse told about a 13-stone six-year-old with an inexhaustible appetite for roast chicken. It feels like a signature Davies routine in its insistence that, however bad things get, we’re never beyond the reach of human eccentricity, its capacity to surprise and delight. There’s plenty of both in You Magnificent Beast, an evening of exuberant confessional comedy from a manchild with a lot of idiocy to confess.

At Hammersmith Apollo, London, on 17 November. Box office: 0844-249 4300. At Hull City Hall, on 21 and 22 November. Box office: 01482 300306. Then touring until 13 December.

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