Comedy: Frank's friend left all on his testosterone

In the izzaland over the road from the St Albans Arena, a shy- looking father and his football-shirted son share a difficult meal. There is something touching about their awkwardness. If they could read their futures in the mozzarella, the long-term forecast might be anything, but the short-term would have a degree of reassurance about it. It would say, "You are going to see David Baddiel: a man who has no difficulty expressing his innermost feelings, even though sometimes it might be better if he did".

There is no way of knowing how father and son react to the moment later in the evening when Baddiel confesses that sometimes his only goal in having sex with his girlfriend is to supply himself with mental images for later masturbatory exploits (There is no way of knowing how David Baddiel's girlfriend reacts to it either, come to that). A nervous attempt at a collusive glance maybe, or perhaps a half-stifled flush of embarrassment? Either way, the arteries of their masculinity will have been fattened beyond the wildest dreams of any wily pepperoni merchant.

Except that when you actually see it happening, the whole Baddiel testosterone bonding experience is not quite as cut and dried as one might have imagined. Early on, when the chants of the crowd oblige him to down his pint in one, this is done not so much in a spirit of beery triumphalism, but with genuine (and justifiable) concern that his fragile grip on the proceedings might be fatally weakened by any form of alcoholic indulgence. Appearing on This Morning recently, Baddiel confessed that he had only gone on the road because Frank Skinner said you had to perform live to be a proper comedian. This is a bit like Alan Shearer convincing Gareth Southgate that you have to take penalties to be worth your place in the international side.

In technical terms, tonight's show is something of a debacle. It's fine to be reading cues off the back of your monitors at this early stage in a long tour, but those cues really need to say something other than "Play dialogue excerpt from your favourite porn film" or "now is the time to use the line 'like Fergie on speed'."

And yet, by all measures other than content and presentation, this performance is a howling success. The warmth with which Baddiel is received is more than equivalent to the loathing he traditionally inspires in those who do not admire him, and it is easy to see why. There is something specious about Baddiel's much-vaunted honesty - his endless presentation of himself as a purveyor of the difficult truths which are so often just easy prejudices in drag - but there is something genuine about it as well. And any man who can describe his angle of erection as "less that of a high-powered industrial crane and more that of a gently opened cat-flap" must have something going for him.

Towards the end of the show, when David Baddiel invites the audience to ask him questions to use up the time he would otherwise have had to fill with humorous material, a voice from the back of the auditorium demands, "Who's funnier, you or Frank?" When the answer rings out across the stalls -- with better comic timing than any the star of the show has managed in the course of the evening - "Frank!", Baddiel has no trouble laughing. And why should he? While his demonic sofa-mate's ability to control the minds of a live crowd verges on the sinister, Baddiel simply relies - not unreasonably on tonight's evidence - on the hope that his audience likes him.

Richmond Theatre (0181 940 0088), tonight; then touring until 27 May.

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