According to the man himself, he was a bit rusty on Monday night, when I caught his latest stand up tour. “I don’t think they noticed,” he posted on his Twitter feed after the show. On the latter point only, I think he might be right.
There were certainly no obvious signs of rust across the two hours plus he was on stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome, where he delivered an at-times breathtakingly funny comedy gig, in front of an audience keen to lap every bit of it up. Just trying to recount the many varied things he managed to squeeze into his act, including an overrunning first half thanks to the many distractions provided by his audience, proved an impossible job. And in the spirit of not wanting to give the jokes away, I gave up even trying.
Still, the first lesson I learned from the evening was this: if I buy front and centre tickets for a comedy show with a comedian known for chatting to his front row, then turn up on time. The two people in seats A15 and A16 didn’t heed that advice, and when they arrived 15 minutes late, they were firmly in O Briain’s crosshairs.
Not that there’s anything cruel about his comedy. In fact, he makes that point at the start of the gig, that comedy has to be nice now. Thus, he instead carefully treads the line, making sure that the subjects of his questionings and gags don’t suddenly turn into angry of Tunbridge Wells. He teases, but never crosses into anything near nastiness.
The beauty of being able to work so well with an audience is that O Briain mines some terrific stories from them, and quick as a beat, turns them into some of the highlights of the evening. To be fair, he was well served by a Birmingham crowd more than up for the occasion. One man’s observation, for instance, that his car didn’t have central locking still hurts the morning after, so hard did I laugh at it. Out of context, it means nothing, and as O Briain often notes, you had to be there. You really, really did.
His show is full of moments such as that. By the time he finally left the stage, we’d met a man who whose replies killed O Briain’s patter stone dead, a woman who dreamed that her father married Shania Twain, and that man in seat A16 will be having dreams the ilk of which he probably wishes he couldn’t imagine.
However, on top of the confident, brilliant audience interaction, O Briain brings along an abundance of quality material of its own. The first half of his show was very good, to the point where the interval felt like more of an inconvenience, given that it threatened to break the flow of what had been a strong comedy gig. The second half, however, was just outstanding.
Given that I’m, as you might have worked out, a slightly geeky man, material covering movies, videogames and such like was always going to work well for me. But O Briain is careful to ensure everyone can enjoy the joke, and by the time he settles into the flat-out highlight of the show – his dissection of modern day videogames – it’s gasping for breath funny.
It’s a terrific show that O Briain has put together, and one I really couldn’t see a fat lot wrong with. At best, we’d heard the line about “I come to you” before, when it turned out a member of his audience had travelled from the Isle Of Man to be at the gig. But even then, it was the same member of the audience who made that point to O Briain in the first place.
Bottom line: along with the current Lee Mack tour travelling the country, Going Out, this is one of the two comedy tickets that it’s genuinely worth busting a gut to get hold of this year. It’s a terrific show from arguably the most consistent and funny stand-up comedian doing the rounds, and the second half in particular is as good, if not better, than anything I’ve ever seen him come up with before.
Dara O Briain is touring until November: details here.