First Night: Nietzsche meets uber-entertainer

`The League Against Tedium' Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, London

VERY FEW stand-up comedians can claim to have been inspired by Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. But, there again, very few stand-up comedians can claim to be anything like The League Against Tedium. It is a bold title for a comic act to adopt. Cruel critics might easily be tempted to sum him up by using only the final word of his moniker.

But Simon Munnery's extremely strange creation is far from tedious. Called all manner of names from "a demented, raving, megalo- maniac uber-entertainer" to "an arrogant little twerp", The League is undoubtedly an acquired taste.

From the very beginning of his show at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, last night, his intention was deliberately to alienate the audience. "Attention, scum," a voice boomed out before The League's entrance as an orange giant. "You are nothing. Absolutely nothing. Behold Superiority."

He went on to sneer at us, claiming: "I have no need of your tedious applause," and providing his own from the image of three clapping Kafkas (yes, it was that sort of self-consciously surreal show). Later, in an apparent effort to pre-empt criticism, he said defensively: "When the crowd gets behind you, it means you're facing the wrong way."

Delicately eating grapes, he then posed a question that may have been running through some people's minds: "As I'm walking around talking nonsense in front of a paying crowd, I ask myself, `How self-indulgent is this?"'

All this was interspersed with what Brecht would have called "alienation effects": use of a made-up language, spoof ads, a cod sermon, a send-up television channel filmed live by The League, jokey arias by a real opera singer, and a brilliant Bob Dylan parody.

But we were inexorably drawn towards The League's multi-media blending of bizarre big-screen images with even more bizarre aphorisms. At one point he ruminated: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger - Frosties, par exemple."

He admitted that parts of the show are "a sort of ongoing mess". After an experimental encore as an Aussie clown, he was the first to acknowledge: "That was rubbish, wasn't it?" And, given the amount of obscenity in the show, I wouldn't rush to take up his offer of availability for children's parties. But despite all that, The League Against Tedium is a deeply original act. After all, which other comedian can you imagine engaging in a philosophical knock-knock gag with the animated image of Wittgenstein?

James Rampton

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