COMEDY / Past master: Mark Wareham listens to Nick Revell at Hampstead Theatre

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The Independent Culture
In the context of the Edinburgh Festival, where Nick Revell's The Ghost of John Belushi Flushed My Toilet first played this year, the show had seemed a godsend. Here was an oasis of intelligence and sensitivity amid the tired, sex-driven wasteground of stand-up comedy.

Leaving behind the point-blank gag-firing and formula audience interaction of most of his peers, Revell had plumped for a more measured style of monologue (not unlike that of Spalding Gray) in which he structured a series of autobiographical details around the story of a working trip to Los Angeles. Where others were regaling audiences with jokes about their masturbatory habits, Revell was to be found recounting powerful impressions of his visit to Dachau concentration camp.

Seen away from the Edinburgh Fringe, in the colder light of London's Hampstead Theatre, the piece's weaknesses become more apparent, while its strengths are compounded. Revell seems less at ease with his audience (admittedly only half full) and stumbles over many of the lines, while some of the structural links creak loudly enough for all to hear.

Yet the spirit of the work remains alive. Revell's anxious thirtysomething echoes the preoccupations of a generation, touching on the issues of racism, drugs and coping with prejudice of all kinds. The monologue is compassionate and insightful, retaining most of its power for the more deeply personal extracts. Take a typical line about his break- down at a friend's funeral: 'When you've carried the coffin of someone you've played football with at school, you can really drink a lot of whisky.'

Next to this, the more obvious material about, say, the wearing of flares seems merely cheap and contrived. With this show, Revell has found a fitting vehicle for his writerly style of comedy. Like Kevin Day, another stand-up comedian who turned personal this year with his Confessions of a Teenage Nazi, he has crafted a fresh show, albeit somewhat roughly hewn.

When Revell played Edinburgh in August, a punter walked in five minutes late, bracing himself for the merciless jibe that would surely be flung his way. Instead, Revell told him: 'Come in. Don't worry, I won't have a go at you. It's not that kind of show.' He even offered him a quick recap of the first five minutes. Now heaven help us if all comedians were suddenly to open up their sleazy closets on stage and air their dodgy pasts. But a show such as this goes a long way towards challenging the one-dimensional knob gag that stand-up comedy so often threatens to become.

'The Ghost of John Belushi Flushed My Toilet', 5.30pm, 8.30pm today, Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage Centre, London NW3 (071-722 9224)