Comedy: Freed from TV: the real, rude Alan Davies

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The Independent Culture
Alan Davies


Phil Kay

Gilded Balloon

Dave Gorman; Tommy Tiernan; Jenny Eclair; Richard Herring


"He's not like this on the telly", grinned , self-referentially. He'd just told a particularly anatomical joke, and was anticipating the horror of some of the more sheltered Jonathan Creek fans in the audience. This, then, is the paradox of live comedy in an age when stand-up comics roam freely across our TV screens. The punters venture out into the drizzly Edinburgh night only because they're so fond of a comedian's TV persona, but they don't feel they're getting their money's worth unless his live persona is different.

It's a contradiction that works in Davies's favour. The Alan in the Abbey National ads is the embodiment of floppy, childlike harmlessness, so the sharp edges of the crudity and political indignation he brandishes in concert seems all the more cutting. He may look like an Old English Sheepdog puppy, but he can mime Monica Lewinsky with total conviction, and his acting of chronic diarrhoea and vomiting is horrifically authentic. If you like the TV Alan, you'll love the live Alan. And if you don't like the TV Alan, you'll love the live Alan even more.

Phil Kay is exactly the same as he is on television: a comedy hurricane. What you can't glean from TV, though, is just how astounding an improviser he is. His brain is on fast-forward, and his body wears itself out trying to keep up. On the night I saw him, he noticed a small boy wearing a Florida T-shirt. When the boy admitted he had been to Florida, but hadn't visited Disneyland while he was over there, Kay went into overdrive. Not content with zipping through a routine about what a fabulously iconoclastic act of resistance this was, he grabbed a guitar and composed a song about it afterwards. Someone threw him 50p for his troubles, and he got a new routine out of that, too. He must be the most naturally, effortlessly funny comedian in the country.

One complaint: given that he can produce jokes more easily than the rest of us can produce phlegm, he shouldn't charge pounds 9 for a gig that's advertised as lasting 90 minutes, and then finish it after 45 (and no, I didn't accidentally walk out in the interval).

If Kay's show required less preparation than that of any other Fringe performer, the one which required most was Dave Gorman's. Gorman, a Bafta-winner for his writing on Mrs Merton, has created Reasons To Be Cheerful, a line-by-line deconstruction of the Ian Dury song of the same name, and you will never see a more exhaustively researched, labour-intensive hour of stand-up in your life. In his obsessive quest to comprehend the lyrics fully, the worryingly deadpan Gorman delved into mathematical theorem, cross-referenced with Twelfth Night and bought powdered chicken beak over the internet. This left him some preparation time to spare, so he decided to illustrate his whole show with second-hand slides.

You'll laugh, but it may be the nervous laughter that leaks out involuntarily in the presence of the certifiable. The only stand-up act anywhere near as strange is The League Against Tedium at Pleasance. Unfortunately for its creator, Simon Munnery, it's too unique and original to give me room to describe it here. You'll just have to see it. Trust me, you'll be amazed.

The TV career of Tommy Tiernan (Pleasance) accounts for much of his material. Tiernan, whom you might easily mistake for a young David Essex or a sober Dylan Moran, once joked about Jesus on Ireland's Late Late Show, and almost got the programme sued for blasphemy. Since then, his deservedly celebrated gift for storytelling has been weighed down by a Lenny Bruce complex. He spends a long time informing us of how important and transgressive he is in Ireland. And I'm sure he is - in Ireland. Not so much in Edinburgh, though, where crucifixion gags aren't all that controversial.

Still, the audience was falling about, so my problem could have been that I saw four Irish stand-ups last week, and - how can I put this? - they do tend to go on about being Irish. I don't know how many more whimsical metaphors about drinking, Catholicism and unexpressive dads I can listen to.

And so we come to those people whose success on TV has spurred them into another arena: playwrighting. Jenny Eclair's gross and engrossing Mrs Nosey Parker drags her stand-up persona to its tragicomic extreme, and Richard Herring's Playing Hide And Seek With Jesus is an acute but feel- good treat. I suspect he'd be appalled by the suggestion, but he is one of the only people with the potential to create a UK equivalent of Friends. Herring: write a sitcom. Your country needs you.

Pleasance (0131 556 6550); Gilded Balloon (0131 226 2151); Assembly (0131 226 2428).