Rhod Gilbert, Marie Faustin, Doctor Brown - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

Rhod Gilbert

There's a certain strand of comedy fan that dispairs at the recent-ish trend for injecting serious, joke-free emotional sections into comedy shows. It's difficult to gauge how tempted such fans will be by the prospect of Rhod Gilbert's (enormous) new tour, now he's triumphantly beaten cancer, following his 2022 diagnosis. Obviously, great to have him back. And Gilbert isn't one to indulge high-minded, artsy impulses in his comedy is he? He's a dependable punchline-merchant. A professional old-school comedian that wants to ensure his audience go home having had a great time, not a sad time, right...?

Clearly, one audience member here in Southend is concerned. During the second half they choose to interrupt proceedings, shouting out "you used to be funny". Gilbert doesn't particularly try to spin this into comedy gold, instead becoming arguably overly apologetic, stating that the show isn't for everyone and offering the heckler a full refund. Happily, it doesn't appear to affect what is an otherwise assured and energetic performance.

Initially you may be a little disheartened to realise that, much like his last tour, a sizable portion of this show centres on him recounting highlights from his interactions with his semi-regular driver, John. To be fair, he's hardly the first comedian to opt for this slightly low-effort approach - from Greg Davies often recounting conversations with his mother, to Ricky Gervais's sizable catalogue of Karl Pilkington-based output.

That strand of the show comes good at the end, though. And the aforementioned heckler's review of the show? Grossly unfair: obviously there's considerable emotion involved, but Gilbert maintains his professional focus and it's only in the very closing moments when he briefly veers the show off the comedy motorway. By that stage, only the most strident opponent of serious-comedy would object.

Phil Burgers

Do alarm bells ring for you when you read the marketing blurb for Doctor Brown's new show? "After starting with absolutely nothing on stage at Soho Theatre a little over a year ago, Doctor Brown is back with his fully-formed brand new show. It's been 12 long years since his last one." Is it unreasonable to hope that - if an act has been away from the stage for 11 years - they might have managed to think of one or two good ideas by the time they've decided to return?

If there's a nagging fear, then, that Doctor Brown will end up being considered something of a comedy one hit wonder, you're not exactly reassured by the start of his show, which is built around two set pieces that both unfold incredibly slowly and without satisfying payoffs. Things improve, but not nearly enough. Doctor Brown is a wordless act, sort of a silent Dennis the Menace: when the show isn't experimenting with mime, his crowd-participation stunts gently toy with overstepping social boundaries. A little sprinkle of audience interaction can inarguably elevate a comedy show, particularly when the ideas are actually good. Too often - like, say, when Brown gets audience members to throw an imaginary ball to each other - they just feel like unimaginative padding. That feeling of annoyingly slow pace doesn't ever really leave the performance, either.

A couple of weeks later, Brown revived his original hit show (that won the biggest prize in stand-up comedy - the Edinburgh Comedy Award - back in 2012), in the upstairs room of the same venue, Soho Theatre. Having now seen it, it's easy to see why he was once the most exciting new name in comedy: it's a strong, commanding central performance. Here, the wordless concept feels winningly bold, in no small part because the ideas supporting it are really good. When the audience-participation bits arrive it's almost disconcerting how good the audience are at actively contributing to the show's success. You're left guessing maybe there wasn't enough room within this eye-catching but tightly-defined conceit to find enough material for a decent second show.

Marie Faustin

New York-based comic Marie Faustin, meanwhile, hasn't amassed her 208k Instagram followers by indulging arthouse tendencies. She's open about how much of an interest she takes in other people's business (likely aware we all share that trait) and seems to delight in advising people on their dating lives (makes sense, given her other live entertainment format). These moments are invariably a pleasure: Faustin exhibits supreme on-stage confidence and is excellent whenever the show goes off-script. Tonight, that's all aided wonderfully by - again! - audience members that are unusually good value themselves (is there something in the frozen margaritas here at Soho Theatre?). These knockabout chats with the audience are so enjoyable it feels as though Faustin doesn't particularly need good material to carry this full hour - when it does arrive it just seems like a lovely bonus: see her thoughts on the negative impacts skiing holidays can have on your personality as a particularly well-crafted example. It's one of the most plainly fun knockabout shows of the year so far.

Read previous editions of this column (featuring Ross Noble, Sarah Keyworth, Phil Wang, Jessica Fostekew and Bill Bailey).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter. He does occasionally use his column to see if he can get free frozen margaritas from arts venues.

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