Comedy: Jack Dee; Gielgud Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
Jack Dee was keen to impress the audience for his first extended West End run, so he splashed out on a 400 quid suit, a rather too-bright blue two-piece. "Then I looked in the mirror," he recounts, "and suddenly realised ... `Sainsbury's manager'."

This is Dee all over. Try as he might, he remains extraordinarily ordinary - the archetypal bloke next door (who has just happened to become a millionaire by being the archetypal bloke next door). He just doesn't suit megastarry trappings. He's "a good laugh", the jokey mate down the pub or, perhaps, the supermarket.

His act is appealingly old-fashioned in that it doesn't have a gimmick - unless you count the suit. There are no surrealistic flights of fancy about underpants posing as undercover agents or Hannibal's elephants skiing down the Alps. The closest he gets is when he imagines what it would have been like if an Englishman had been the first man on the moon - "Ooo, the trouble we had getting here." Dee is the perfect example of that dying breed: One Man and His Mic.

His currency is the minutiae of everyday life, those annoying little things that nag away at you. He is perplexed by the fact that petrol stations always seem to have a special offer on bird-tables - "That's a real impulse buy," he snorts. Equally, he is baffled by items like the cardigan de- bobber in the Innovations catalogue and freaked out by the choices on offer at the car-wash: "All you want is a button that says, `get the birdshit off the bonnet'."

There are flashes of his fabled miserabilist tendency - the programme dubs him "Little Jack Scorner", and he rants at one point that everyone should be tested on how quietly they can open a sweet-wrapper before being allowed into a cinema. He is also fond of depicting the world as one huge conspiracy against him. He is highly suspicious that at the end of every phone call to a pizza delivery service, the restaurateur always says: "Just one minute, sir. I'll just get someone who's never spoken English before to take your address."

But Dee is just too damned likeable to sustain for long the facade of what the tabloids are wont to call "TV's Mr Misery". Indeed, in less skilful hands, a lot of the material - domestic pets and entertainers at children's parties, for instance - would be downright cosy.

Things haven't gone entirely swimmingly for Dee on TV of late - Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives, his series with Jeremy Hardy, ended up being broadcast in a graveyard slot by Channel 4 last year. But in the live arena, he has few peers. As a stand-up, he's as professional as any Sainsbury's manager - and a good deal funnier.

Jack Dee continues at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1 (0171-494 5540) to 21 June

James Rampton

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