Comedy Les Patterson Whitehall Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
If character comedy is the new vogue in stand-up, then its eager exponents should take a night off from their Edinburgh rehearsals, whip out an exercise book and get down to Whitehall for a Barry Humphries masterclass. There they will find Humphries holding court with his lesser-known but equally sublime creation, Dr Sir Lesley Colin Patterson, Australia's Cultural Attache to the Court of St James and mutant scatological half-brother of Dame Edna Everage.

Patterson's appearance and mannerisms, never mind the material, show the attention to detail of near-perfect characterisation. The tan and cream lace-up four-inch platforms, the electric pink socks, the Oxfam- reject sky-blue Terylene flares, complete with strategic Camembert stains, flapping heroically at his ankles, the orange, brown and yellow diagonal- striped kipper tie resting proudly on his straining gut; and then, the crowning glory, that monstrous face, its sweat-dripping dewlap and rouge- smeared cheeks framing a set of gnashers alarming enough to make Janet Street-Porter a cover girl for Dentist Monthly. Slopping Chardonnay on to his platforms, he hitches up a leg in an exaggerated rearrangement of his tackle before indulging in a long, hard anal scratch, eyes upturned in ecstasy, a loop of drool suspended from his chin. If Spitting Image attempted to caricature him, there'd be no room for manoeuvre.

The principal worry beforehand was that Sir Les, hitherto a 20-minute warm-up act for Dame Edna, might peak prematurely and fail to stay the full 90 minutes. But some song and prancing with his research assistants, the Lesettes ("a smorgasbord of hornbags and ceiling inspectors"), a string of bewitching anecdotes, and a high intensity of gag-fire banished any fears, underlining the gulf between an old pro like Humphries and the class of '96. (Perhaps the only current creations fit to lick the stains off Patterson's suit trousers are Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge and Paul Calf, both monsters themselves.)

Saliva showers apart, the front row got off lightly. Sir Les is a far more demanding character to perform than Dame Edna, which is perhaps why he opted for less audience interaction than the housewife superstar. But with a script this good, it didn't matter. Traditionally, eloquence and filth are total strangers on the comedy stage (cf Roy Chubby Brown, Jim Davidson, anything blue at the end of a pier near you this summer), the four-letter outburst simply replacing the need for humour, so it comes as a delight to tune into Humphries's inventive brand of lyrical obscenity.

In a sketch entitled "The Critics", Peter Cook and Dudley Moore once lamented the critical lambasting meted out to their lavatorial alter-egos, Derek and Clive. "A prick in the hands of Pinter," Cook reasoned somewhat bitterly, "is a punctuation point, a marvellous moment, an epithet, the end of an extremely witty line; whereas a prick in the hands of Cook and Moore is just a gratuitous prick... one feels it's being abused." With Patterson, however, the characterisation is so triumphal, gratuitousness never enters the critical equation. Not that he'd ever call a prick a prick when he could refer to it as "the old walloper" or "the pigskin bus".

n 'Les Patterson has a Stand-Up', Whitehall Theatre, London SW1 (0171- 369 1735) to Sat