Alan Davies: Life Is Pain, Venue 150 @ EICC, Edinburgh

More than just Essex jokes from Davies

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The Independent Culture

More than a decade has passed since everyone's favourite “dunce” from QI last flexed his stand-up muscles, so he has some catching up to do.

In the 1990s, Davies was the new man everyman, a comedian to whom both men and women of all backgrounds could relate. Tonight, after 11 years away but with those credentials still just about intact, he reminisces and gives his initial routines a 1980s retro feel – talking about phones with dials, for example.

Eager to make an impression, and concerned about the quality of the laughs he is getting, for the first 30 minutes he moves in fits and starts to match chronological jumps in his material. A non-anecdote about getting stoned with some American actors when he was at a theatre festival in his twenties is given life by volume only and is blown up into something that sounds fictional even though it is too dull to be. Immediately afterwards, his take on the language of his fellow Essex men, a tapestry of "ly" words ("Basically... literally... effectively... seriously etc) strikes a more successful note.

Unsurprisingly, the curly comic wants in on social media too and it's a topic that makes the 46-year old sound like everyone's dad. He's incredulous that poking someone is construed as a come-on. It's as if, he conjectures, he has had a lust for his friend Dave "gnawing away inside me for two and a half decades" and has just been waiting for Facebook to out it.

Some passages are more genuine than others. An initially clumsy attempt to generalise female students in the 1980s as converts to lesbianism, leads into striking piece about the brutality of modern-day porn: "It's like a crime scene, I feel like I need to call the police."

Twenty-one years have passed since Davies started in comedy. Given that his fallow period has outstripped his stand-up career, tonight's return to the stage is impressive. The last third of his show kicks into a polished stride and you start to see the legs it could have on tour, provided he keeps his nostalgia rooted in real experience.

Ends tomorrow (0844 847 1639)