Kate Berlant, Tom Ballard, Bill O'Neill, David McSavage - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

Kate Berlant

It's impressive to witness the full extent of Kate Berlant's takeover of Soho Theatre, for the month-long residency of her show KATE. Actorly pictures of her fill the building's main staircase and lift. Substantial effort has even gone into a Berlant-themed makeover-of-sorts for the upstairs toilets, which surely only about 3% of ticket holders are likely to see. Berlant herself, meanwhile, sits on a stool outside her room, spotlit, on her phone, as the audience enters, with a sign around her neck saying 'Ignore me'. On a nearby wall, an absolutely perfect 'statement from the artist' opens by pondering "if there's anything the last few years have taught us, it's that we breathe the same air. There is an inherent eroticism to this".

KATE mocks the pretensions of theatre - as well as a certain type of self-promotion-focused theatre show - so this all very much makes sense. Regular visitors to this room may notice this was also a theme of Liz Kingsman's One Woman Show, and the similarities don't end there: Berlant's version of herself, for example, also spends much of her time distracted by her wish to impress one particular industry bigwig she's heard is watching tonight's performance.

Kate Berlant. Credit: Emilio Madrid

You'd have to say Kingsman's show is the outright funnier of the two, but Berlant's hangs together better as a satisfying, cohesive theatrical comedy. Besides - Kingsman is responsible for what remains the best live comedy show to emerge post-Covid, so there's ample room for KATE to stand on its considerable merits. Chief amongst these are her clown skill set - her gift for rubber-faced expressions made so much funnier here by the fact that her character is completely failing to pull off Very Serious Subtle Acting.

Care and attention has been lavished on the production, which is stylishly executed and helps maintain that cohesiveness. There's a lovely moment that punctures the way personal trauma so often powers these types of theatre/comedy shows. In of itself it's a very good show. What's more difficult to say is that it's definitely worth the high asking prices for tickets. But if your streamer of choice happens to be Disney+ or Hulu, you can watch her excellent special Cinnamon in the Wind, which is a great showcase of her gift for zero-stakes knockabout improvised performance. It gives a more obvious indication of what makes her such a singular performer.

Tom Ballard

Meanwhile, at the same time in the basement of the same building, Tom Ballard is, in many ways, not exactly adventuring on comedy's brave new horizons - the line of humour in his show settling more on, say, jokes about his own weight gain and how - if you think about them for a minute - the Royal Family are actually a bit weird. But it works, because it's all fantastically well done. The high-quality punchlines just keep coming. It's good enough to even forgive him for the extremely evocative images of Rupert Murdoch he conjures up, which the audience are likely to still be trying to erase from their minds. He's an absolute blast.

Bill O'Neill

Slipping on a banana skin - that traditional staple of clowning - is really explored to the fullest extent possible in The Amazing Banana Brothers, where LA-based clown Bill O'Neill plays both reckless car-crash of a performer Kevin and his put-upon younger brother Joey. Kevin is aiming to perform 1000 banana slips in one show (thankfully, the amount we see doesn't actually come close to this total). Add in a large quantity of other inventive set-pieces and you've probably got the year's wildest live comedy experience. You can definitely feel the influence of his director, the acclaimed Natalie Palamides. O'Neill's talent for shepherding all this madness, though - alongside his willingness to put his body through everything this show entails - is quite something to behold. Suffice to say that you struggle to name many people who have given more of themselves to a performance, which also leaves you fearing what it must have felt like to perform it for a whole month in Edinburgh. On the night we visited it maybe didn't need to overrun by all of its extra 15 minutes, but you still can't help but fall hard for all the beautiful chaotic invention on display.

David McSavage

Finally, I followed a tipoff to London's Top Secret Comedy Club, to see Irish comedian David McSavage. Reasonably well known in his homeland, McSavage only seems to play Top Secret over here, reportedly due to the fact he's mates with the owner. He's also an intriguingly mysterious prospect, seemingly having gone completely unreviewed by any publication since 2014.

He's refreshingly clear about his motivations: "I'm doing this for money to some extent, but I'm also doing it for sex". He can undeniably create moments of spontaneous fun in the room, but the overall impression is one of an undisciplined performer. He also has a reputation for being something of a provocateur, a style of comedy which has its place when the material in question is well-constructed, cleverly-observed and carefully-aimed. Unfortunately his extremely aggressive, route-one attack on one of his characters when they express the fact they're gender neutral fails on all three counts. I was told that sometimes he can be "electrifyingly good". Unfortunately I don't recommend giving him a go in the hope you find him in better form.

Read previous editions of this column (including James Acaster, Ed Byrne, Bridget Christie, Ahir Shah and Elf Lyons).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter, if anybody fancies trolling him with further vile Rupert Murdoch imagery.

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