COMEDY / Lee's still sweet, but Skinner's sounding sour

A YEAR is a long time in comedy, and if you didn't know that Lee Evans has been busy making a series of short comedy- dramas for Channel 4 and co- starring in a Disney film with Jerry Lewis (a cynical ploy to make him big in France), it would be tempting to think he had gone underground. This is the Perrier Award-winner's first proper tour, but if he was worried that everyone might have forgotten him, the warmth of the reception he gets from a packed Lewisham Theatre should have put his mind at rest.

Except that the moment Evans's mind is at rest, his act will be finished.

This is showbiz as panic attack. One shoulder is slightly raised in a perpetual half-flinch; Evans doesn't so much deliver his lines as let them escape, like compressed air released from an over- pumped bike tyre. Perpetually poised just beyond the brink of hysteria, he must duck and dive or die. He used to box when he was younger, and now if he stays in one place for too long, or messes about and tries anything too fancy, the crowd might flatten him. 'This used to be a picture house,' he observes with his variety-heritage hat on, '. . . You don't give a shit, do you?'

Evans's personification of his audience as a dangerous beast, ready to turn on him at any moment, seems to delight them. The irony is, this is exactly how things used to be for him. Before the alternative circuit began to find his modesty and innocence beguiling, Evans died a thousand deaths in holiday camps and working men's clubs. Now he is going out among the people again and, miraculously, they like him, but he is never going to take that for granted. He might get his suits from the same tailor as Jack Dee, but he still sweats in them - 'Hot in here, no it isn't; I need some kind of guttering.'

The thing about physical comedy is that you can do it again and people will still laugh. The familiarity which breeds, well, familiarity is not a problem once Evans is in motion. Amid the delicious hamming of his 'Bohemian Rhapsody' routine, it is even possible to forget that its foundations lie in a four-letter word that begins with 'm' and rhymes with 'crime'.

A plume of blue smoke escaping the roof of the St Albans Arena signals the scabrous presence of Frank Skinner: the West Midlands Max Miller and the thinking person's Chubby Brown. Was ever a stage name better chosen?

Probably not. Would Skinner have got where he is today if someone else hadn't already been called Chris Collins, and his dad hadn't had a domino partner whose name sounded like the acme of loveable roguishness? Probably.

As his hunched figure scuttles back and forth across the stage, Frank Skinner seems to be conducting a one-to-one conversation with the entire auditorium. Beneath his poacher's anorak, Frank's T-shirt bears the legend 'Rage Against the Machine'. The coupling of this man's name with that of a fiercely puritanical political rock band seems somewhat incongruous, but he used to be in a band once, and his current popularity is such that if he actually decided to run for political office, it is hard to know who would stop him.

A country run by Frank's jauntily amoral TV persona might not be a bad place to live in, but in his off-the-leash, adults-only incarnation he is a rather scarier proposition. It's not his talent for crowd control that is disturbing - even at his most savage, Skinner is always amiable - so much as the darkness that seems to lurk near the heart of his act. 'Did you hear Frederick West's house is up for sale?' he asks in time- honoured set-them-up-to-knock- them-down fashion. 'What a horrible place that would be to live . . . Gloucester.'

This is pretty funny, in a callous sort of way; but over the course of a full-length show, the heartlessness which helps make Skinner's wit so devastating can start to ache a bit. You start to wonder if he really does think there is no more to life than football and anal sex, and if so, whether his audience actually agree with him, or are just going along with it for the purposes of comedy. Frank Skinner got in the New Lad elevator when it was still on the ground floor. Now he - and it - are at the top, maybe he should get out and look around.

Evans: Oxford Apollo, 0865 244 244544, tonight; Northampton Derngate, 0604 248111, tomorrow; then touring. Skinner: Reading Hexagon, 0734 591591, tonight; Southampton Guildhall, 0703 632601, tomorrow; then touring.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test