If ever there was a room full of smug ticket holders, this was it. You can hardly blame them: Soho Theatre’s cabaret basement holds 150, and Rob Delaney has amassed 600,000+ followers on Twitter. Needless to say, these shows – the American comedian’s first in the UK – sold out in minutes.
But after the smugness comes expectation, and tonight, Delaney meets it. From start to finish he’s the archetypal “safe pair of hands” comedian, his delivery robust yet nonchalant, his stories consistently funny. He’s just a regular guy – the suburban yummy daddy who’s just wheeled himself out from under the car, wiped his greasy hands on his grey T-shirt and jeans, and sauntered on stage to do a set. He has a beard so reliable you’d let it babysit your child.
So where’s the tension? Well, much like Sarah Silverman’s “girl next door who says shocking things” schtick, Delaney is unexpectedly candid and explicit. Tonight, much of his material gravitates towards the sexual and the scatological, like a Judd Apatow character with chest hair. Anyone wanting political material – which wouldn’t be unreasonable given how much he berates Mitt Romney on Twitter – might be disappointed.
His outrageous statements and wild trains of thought that end in him oven-roasting a baby, say, or masturbating with a broken arm, are shocking not just in themselves, but because of the blasé delivery. The same goes for his own back story, which includes alcoholism, a near-death car crash and a psychiatric hospital. It all seems inconceivable from someone who reeks of security.
So the regular guy isn’t so regular after all – but now he’s on the other side, unembarrassable and skillful enough to turn his eye-popping biography into truly fantastic stand-up, as Richard Pryor did all those years ago. He relies on tightly honed anecdotes more than hard punchlines, and the audience is compelled throughout, except for an over-long tale of how he wet himself up to the age of 25.
Another dimension is added when he speaks about his family. His stories about the “majesty” of his wife giving birth and his toddler son pooing are typically colourful in detail, but they betray a big bear’s love for them both.
Nor are we omitted from the Delaney charm offensive. Having performed the same show earlier in the evening at the Bloomsbury Theatre (“a barn”), he describes this Soho gig as “like a cute little armpit; I can smell you all”. Which I think is his way of saying he likes us – a sentiment that is certainly reciprocated.