So, partly as a promise to myself, and partly as a dare of sorts from a correspondence friend, I have decided to try and re-boot (as young people today say) this dormant blog. One new posting a week, that’s my commitment. It’s not a lot to ask, is it?
It’s not that I don’t want to, because I do. I just feel like I’ve got so little to say, both in the sense of having no opinions worth expressing and of having no new ways to express them. So, there’s the challenge, I suppose - to see if there’s anything left in the tank.
I’ll admit, I was almost inclined to concede defeat to my own apathy, only to discover that late last week I got two comments. Not just two more responses from people singularly failing to get the point of the John Lennon piece, but two actual comments, by someone who has clearly read a couple of the entries and got something out of them. So I feel a sense of duty to at least stick around long enough to disillusion him.
To business, then. I went to see Daniel Kitson last night. Kitson is what a lazy journalist (or in this instance, I) would call the comedian’s comedian. He doesn’t do television (or at least not since Phoenix Nights, which appears to have put him off for good), he doesn’t have a manager or agent, he almost goes out of his way to maintain a small, cult following. I’d never seen him before, but enough people whose work I admire had expressed their adulation for him that I felt like I was on safe ground taking a punt.
It wasn’t your standard stand-up performance, that’s for sure. In the first place he delivered the entire routine sat at a small table. In the second place, the sheer volume of it was extraordinary - 100 minutes of monologue, delivered at a fairly rapid pace, with barely even a pause to accept laughter. The last comedian I saw at The Oxford Playhouse was Stewart Lee, and given his penchant for repetition and his languid delivery, Kitson must get through about three times as much material in the same timeframe. I’m not saying one is better than the other, just highlighting the difference.
I’ll admit, as Sunday evening entertainment goes, it was somewhat challenging. The material was overflowing with ideas about identity, perception and self-image which needed a moment or two to digest, and the intensity of the performance didn’t allow much time to do that. It needed concentration. But it was worth it, on balance. I couldn’t say it was the funniest stand-up I’ve ever seen, but it was one of the most rewarding. I came away feeling enriched by the experience, which you can’t often say of stand-up comedy. Some of the choices of language were sublime, with punchlines which could perhaps be anticipated coming to life simply through the unexpected vocabulary used to express them. But, all in all, I could just have done with a few more spells where I could stop thinking so damn hard.
What didn’t help - and this was really quite bizarre - was the bed of music which played throughout. Using some little sequencer or something on his table, Kitson cued up what was practically a synthesized drone, with only minor variations in the patterns of melody played over the top of it as he pushed buttons at various times. It played, non-stop, for the entire 100 minutes. Goodness knows why he uses it (and I’ve no idea if he always does or if it’s just for this tour). Most of the time I managed to ignore it, but some of the time it felt like being on hold in perpetuity, and on other occasions it actually intruded and became so annoying I missed parts of the dialogue. It’s clearly a decision he’s made to add some dimension to the performance, but quite what that dimension would be, goodness knows. I did email and ask him this afternoon, so maybe he’ll tell me. Although I doubt it. He struck me as a man for whom the secrets of the art will remain just that.