If Stewart Lee were to announce his retirement tomorrow then Liam Williams would surely be his heir. Awkward, bitter, and only too keen to deconstruct the art of stand-up comedy, the nihilistic twentysomething likes to wallow in his self-analysis.
But he is not just a mini-Lee. Williams has followed up his Best Newcomer-nominated debut with Capitalism, a dark, lo-fi collection of tales of his relationships, his anxiety and his attachment to the classic thriller Fight Club.
“The show’s called Capitalism. I wanted to have a big theme to prevent myself from going on about sexual rejection,” intones Williams in this gloomy underground venue.
But he’s not really here to talk about capitalism, despite the extent to which it obviously pains him as an economic system.
Instead he wants to pick apart the assumptions of pop culture and to get one over on anyone who has ever judged him as weirdo or a loner.
So he comes back time and again to Fight Club, setting himself as both Brad Pitt and Ed Norton, and angrily fighting with himself in a corner of the stage.
If you think it is hard work for the audience, then you would be mistaken. Williams’ confidence carries him through the protestations of awkwardness, and his hour is a way of demonstrating to his enemies that his life has been imbued with a sense of purpose.
“Look at me now, bullies,” he says as he opens his act.
Despite the anguished tone, Williams is here to celebrate his belated triumph over his childhood tormentors. And he’s also here to send-up pop culture. Of the World Cup, he argues, “call me a patriot, but I still think England can win”.
And then he embarks on his “World Cup song”. With this fantastic, scatalogical rant, which knits together mindless platitudes with company slogans, it’s nearly all over. He ends with the apparently Buddhist-inspired chant of “Happy, Happy, Happy”. Williams may rarely seem happy, but he is clever, funny, and – whatever his fears – on the way up.
Review written by Peter Edwards