A "won't stop till I drop" workaholic, Lee Evans has pushed himself both through professional boundaries and physically with his exhausting stage routines. The reward for his work rate, which is apparently powered by existential anxiety and fear of failure (he suffered a nervous breakdown after winning the Perrier in 1993), has been to become one of Britain's most successful comedians of the past 20 years.
He has overshadowed Eddie Izzard in terms of Hollywood success, been associated with loftier West End shows than, say, Ben Elton (he starred in Mel Brooks' recent hit The Producers and opposite Michael Gambon in Beckett's Endgame at the Albery Theatre), and rivalled Peter Kay in DVD sales. To some, the wired, wiry comic may be as irritating as hearing someone run their fingers down a balloon, but there's no doubting his status as a figurehead in post-alternative comedy.
With success comes the demand for ever more impressive feats to maintain his profile, and no doubt this was a factor when it was claimed a few weeks ago, on behalf of Evans, that he had broken the record for the largest-ever comedy audience for a single show. It's a claim that has been contested by Eddie Izzard's entourage, who have a strong case but one that awaits official scrutiny.
The capacity of the Wembley Arena Pavilion is said to be 10,000, so there's no danger of any dispute over records tonight. Nor need there be doubt over the love in the room for Evans, who, by and large, has his audience rapt for the duration of his two-and-a-half-hour show. But that is too long, and it's unfortunate that such a marathon seems mandatory for big-name comics such as Evans, Izzard, Jack Dee and Bill Bailey, who tend to sacrifice quality for quantity.
In the course of the show, Evans overstretches his various excitable personae and exhausts a number of stand-up clichés: female foibles, kebabs, Brits abroad, gormless shop assistants, health-food fads and so on.
However, as well as predictable routines - such as the one about a wife complaining that her husband doesn't like her new dress, before he has voiced his opinion - there are other delightful ones. He personifies the dispersal of dropped change - how a 50p piece labours clumsily to a halt, while a 10p treats its owner to an extravagant, balletic solo.
Evans is equally brilliant mimicking a "concussed can" that has dropped from a vending machine to end up "punch drunk" before its purchaser. Evans has an old routine called "willing inanimate objects" that's sadly reprised tonight. It concerns people playing bowls and trying to influence the course of the bowl after they have released it.
Evans expands the routine to theorise that a plane stays airborne only because of the willpower of its passengers. It's a useful allegory for how he tells - or rather shows - jokes, willing them on after the main point has become obvious.
Among good examples of this tonight is his portrayal of an "attempted delivery" of a parcel - he compares the activity to an attempt on Everest. His representation of the hapless postman floored by his vain attempt is terrific.
Carrying the traditions of Max Miller, Norman Wisdom, Jerry Lewis and Michael Crawford on his shoulders, Evans has a keen sense of such vain striving, saying: "I feel that what I do is not worth that much... It won't last. It's just of its time and it's absolutely meaningless." He describes his work as a search for something that "probably doesn't exist".
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