Stephen Merchant: Hello Ladies, The Hexagon, Reading
Thursday 15 September 2011
Last year Stephen Merchant described himself as a "mediocre" stand-up and, based on the quality of the various warm-up gigs he'd performed by this point (three years into a reprisal of a discipline he first attempted in 1997), it was hard to disagree. However, now that his full tour has rolled out, it would be fair to say that the star was prematurely dismissive about his ability.
Though Reading, chosen as the media launchpad for the tour, is the birthplace of his comedy partner, Ricky Gervais, and a stone's throw from Slough, the setting for The Office, tonight was all about Merchant being out from under the shadow of the man he refers to as "his nibs". That said, Merchant was quick to label himself as Gervais's subordinate and projected a series of newspaper cuttings to reinforce the point. One shows a picture of The Office cast and crew at The Golden Globes. Merchant's head is cut out of the frame, "a minor niggle" he coyly pretended.
With the volume turned down slightly on the playfulness with political correctness and celebrity that so characterise Gervais's stand-up, the 36-year-old duly served his ego up on a platter along with, supposedly, his heart; the conceit of the show being a hunt for a wife.
What followed showed Merchant as an awkward catch at best. He's too tall at 6ft 7in to be an easy lover or a relaxed traveller ("Why are you in the crash position sir?" "I'm not!") and too honest to ever be socially acceptable. "Have you ever met someone so dull that when they turn away from you, you can't remember what they look like?" he asks, while recounting a series of social faux pas at a wedding.
A sequence on his sexual shortcomings is less rewarding. It's not just that the premise that ladies exert themselves little during sex is a bit boysy and grating ("I thought it would be classier than this didn't you?" he acknowledged) it's more that the routine, that climaxes with a close-up of his sex face, contrasts poorly against his other material.
Equally, his encore of a school-style play, that crams in as many issues as possible, from teen pregnancy to solvent abuse, is another indulgence. It's just a little too long, though it is deft in its aping of teenage naïveté and its coupling with a knowing adult point of view.
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