Dubbed 'the King of Comedy' by a public vote at the British Comedy Awards, Jack Whitehall's debut arena tour could be considered an extended coronation, but the young comic over-reaches to keep pace with the hype.
The 25-year-old pulls out various stops, including unleashing a confetti canon on us - and that was just to mark the end of the first half. Meanwhile, a recurrent homage to The Lion King (“Shakespeare with fur”) sees him go beyond pride in search of a big finish in the second.
The crowd duly roars its approval for Whitehall, now more widely known thanks to Bad Education (BBC3) and Fresh Meat (E4). However, I suspect their rapture partly comes out of relief that he finishes before his giddy exuberance turns into unwelcome showiness - a sliding scale that one might apply to an initially amusing relative at a boozy Christmas dinner.
His previous tendency to pose and posture to emphasise a punchline has been reined in, though Whitehall still employs significant amounts of bombast and ranting to get his points across.
He does so tonight from a circular platform in the middle of the venue, making Wembley Arena in-the-round - a ploy that would succeed in its attempt at intimacy were it not got the irresistible pull of the giant screens just above him.
“Get it wrong? Gotta be strong” is the central Whitehall mantra; pseudo ghetto advice that will get us through minor social faux pas such as forgetting someone's name. Just keep saying the name you first said til they start to question their own identity, he advises.
Though route one is the way he often favours, Whitehall is by no means an entirely a blunt instrument beating its way down the path of least resistance.
In style he's much more fluid, with his feminine side more pronounced than on previous occasions where he was more cocky than camp. His material may lack ambition in topic – e.g. the awkwardness of having your testicles handled by a doctor; the incongruity of posh people in a bar fight and how one might adapt the 'sticks and stones' adage to stop bullies – but his routines are dispatched with conviction.
Meanwhile, the easy cliches and stereotyping that have attracted a backlash to Whitehall's success are less in evidence tonight. One clumsy line from the 'sticks and stones' riff does undo his restraint, however. He suggests to bullies that they pick on “the fat boy or the Jew”, a clumsy rhyme grasped at for a flourish, and with little thought for its impact.
For the most part, however, Jack's all right. Though playing mega venues suggests a finished article, the young comic is still a work-in-progress. This show at least suggests that he can progress in quality (clearly he has quantity licked), though it doesn't signpost how far.
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