Daniel Kitson – Edinburgh Festival review/essay

Daniel_Kitson6The top/bottom line is that Daniel Kitson has gone and nailed another outstanding show. I feel almost apologetic in saying that because it’s such a predictable thing to say, but it genuinely is up there with his best.

We (the wider comedy public) probably take this for granted now, that a new Kitson show will be head and shoulders, but it is a truly remarkable achievement to have written quite so many shows of this quality. When is someone going to challenge him? Comedians should not see this show or his portfolio as reason to not bother – it’s a fucking gauntlet. Up your game.

This review will be quite vague as any note-takers in a Kitson show are likely to be bundled out. Also I’m wary of spoilers. But I wanted to chew it over.

It’s in three parts/acts, the first about his beard, the second about falling in love, and the third about chopping the head off a dead pig. In many ways it’s same old Kitson – the bawdy and the philosophical, the microscopic and the existential, arguments and clichés are picked apart, theories and counter-theories are posited, there’s faux bravado and not-so faux bravado, self-promotion and self-deprecation, a nihilistic streak, a bit of stammering, some witty asides, and home we go with a shit load of food for thought. And it’s all written, as ever, deliciously.

I did find the first twenty minutes uncomfortable at times due to some boisterous over-laughing. if I laugh loudest that means I get it the most and I’m the best. You get not a dissimilar thing at Bob Dylan gigs, where middle-aged men compete to recognise each song first and bellow approval accordingly. But you can’t let fans ruin an act, or there’d be no acts left to like. And it did settle down after the initial excitement passed.

The first section is also used as a bit of a soapbox for Kitson. He’s a man with stuff to say, but not many forums in which to say them (such as interviews and regular club gigs), so this is it. His full-length shows are his only chance to say in public what he wants to say, so it’s all coming out. He turns quite some considerable anger on other comedians, the public and (some of) his own fans, and he answers/pre-empts criticism of him. These initial outbursts seem totally genuine, although much of this is turned on its head later on, so it’s not easy to hone in on what he really thinks, the slippery bugger. Kitson is, as it turns out, a fucking good liar.

Which brings me to the main “take-home message” as my old boss used to say. This show seems designed to throw people off the scent, muddy the waters, and other metaphors that imply obscuration. He speaks at quite a lick for about 100 minutes about some pretty personal stuff, yet Kitson seems more enigmatic after the show than before. Even though we know he once shat in the street.

He is becoming increasingly famous, and he admits to being uncomfortable with that. The general public that he’s so wary/contemptuous of are closing in, and the media is circling above. Everyone wants a piece of him, and he doesn’t want to play. It seems his only way out is to create chaos.

He has had years of obsessive fans developing shorthands and make assumptions, which is something Kitson appears to despise. Just because you’ve got a beard and I’ve got a beard, doesn’t mean we have to be friends – that sort of thing. I remember something from a previous Kitson show (it may just have been a joke but it’s stuck in my mind and is apt to cite here), a line about how Kitson hates people recommending him music. It was something along the lines of: “Fuck off, you don’t know me, I’m an enigma.” It was less hostile than it looks on the page.

He seems to be frightened of being both understood, and misunderstood. Whether it’s by design or not, Where Once Was Wonder churns up the information and speculation people hold about Kitson and makes everything uncertain. Of course, uncertainty leads to more guess work, assumptions and shorthands, so the relationship between Kitson and his enthusiastic fanbase is currently in perpetual motion.

Between his stand-up show and his new theatre show, he also spends a not insignificant amount of time pre-empting reviews in the media. A very clever weapon for disarming reviewers, and in fact he makes an astute reviewer – I’d give him 5 stars for his reviews of the reviews.

What also strikes me is: how much frigging thinking does Kitson do? One of the problems comics face is they are expected to reflect the real world, but they don’t live in it. They sit in their pants watching Loose Women then have a shower at 6pm before going out to work. Ok not all of them are that lazy but you get the gist. Their and our existence are very different, and that gets reconciled by lots of material on self-service supermarket machines, as if that’s the only overlap in the Venn diagram.

Kitson must get through a hell of a lot of thinking to come up with a show such as this. He has more stories, ideas and truisms in one show than many comics have in their entire career. He systematically dismantles arguments and thought processes to the point where nothing’s left of them, whilst simultaneously keeping the funnies coming. God knows how much is on the cutting room floor. The end result is that he passes the baton of cogitation (new phrase) onto us – on leaving this show, you could spend hours talking through its material. How many comedy shows can you say that about?

Again. Gauntlet.

5 stars

Daniel Kitson – Where Once Was Wonder is on at the Stand 1 at 11.59pm until August 26. Bookings are sold out but arrive VERY early to bag one of the 14 held-back tickets, that go on sale just prior to each show
Review written by Paul Fleckney

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