In an age in which compilations, retrospectives and top-100 lists proliferate and dominate, we can perhaps forgive Jasper Carrott for going down the "best of" route, especially since his career spans 35 years and has produced more than 30 hours of material.
The 58-year-old Brummie comic's attitude to his "home grown" tour, in which fans have voted for sketches from his back catalogue, is pragmatic. Rather than acquiescing to requests for old routines during pervious gigs, Carrott explains, he prefers to get it out of his system in one go; hence this residency has grown to 14 days, to accommodate nostalgic fans.
However, this isn't the only reason for live repeats - Carrott admits to having a hard time foraging for new material: "How many routines can you do on cars or people or politics - whatever?" Collectively, the answer should be an infinite number, but perhaps this is a humble reminder that an individual's point of view is finite. Besides, how many routines a comedian can be happy with is a question with an even less satisfactory answer.
So, for a while, Carrot's stand-up stood down. Not that he has been idle. There is, of course, his BBC sitcom, All About Me, a work that won the ratings war but lost the battle with critics. The sitcom was co-written by Steve Knight, writer of the brilliant film Dirty Pretty Things. Along with Mike Whitehill (creator of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a factor in the Carrott fortune), Knight kept Jasper's show on the road during the Nineties with Carrott Confidential, The Detectives, Carrott's Commercial Breakdown and Back to the Front.
Tonight, the audience was hoping for the rich pickings from some of this crop, and vintage harvests of his award-winning Carrott's Lib days. I, too, had a favourite that I was hoping for. Like a pop comeback gig, if the band plays your song you are touched. He didn't and I wasn't.
If you were a die-hard Carrott fan from Birmingham, you got your money's worth, but I couldn't help thinking that some of this Selly Oak-aged material should have stayed in the cellar. There was no problem with the Brum-centric sketches, though, they were both expected and amusing. However, Carrott's tour of world cuisine, complete with the obligatory curry-house tales, seemed stale, as did his personal experience of aping the dining habits of royalty at a charity function. Just as it is hard to think up new material, it is equally tricky to breathe new life into curries, fondues and Jehovah's witnesses.
The popular story of how Jasper fails to rid his garden of a mole belongs to another era, and it is thus fitting that an animation created to portray the routine looks as aged and jumpy as a Peanuts cartoon without the jazz.
Claiming the tour as "the pinnacle of my career", Carrott started the evening aping an excited child. Reverting to his more customary lizard-like demeanour, he bobbed through short observations and longer stories but only seemed to shake off a pervading languidness in the second half, particularly towards the end ,when he spent his trademark incredulity on moths, Love Hearts and teenagers (noting that teen-agers and old people are the same, they both have no jobs and are on drugs).
For an evening of nostalgia, there was little in the way of knowing responses to routines, except when a list of actual car- insurance claims was read out - well, you don't come to Carrott for surrealism. He had his moments, but it is a shame that those moments could not have been shared more intimately. Had he not had to wait three years to hire the 1,800-seater Hippodrome, this might have been the case. Watching the spotlight bounce off Carrott's bald pate, thus blurring him, or craning slightly to view him on one of three big screens hanging from the ceiling of the 5,000-seater NIA wasn't condusive to an intimate homecoming.
There's no denying, however, that nostalgia won the day in terms of audience numbers, and at least, one assumes, it was a never-to-be-repeated offer.
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