About 100 times better than My Family (the sitcom)
For some people David Baddiel will for ever be preserved in amber as the precocious young comic from the Mary Whitehouse Experience or Fantasy Football. But time moves on, and as comics get older so, too, do their loved ones. A few years ago Mark Thomas produced a fine show about his ageing and rather formidable father, Alan Davies spoke about his dad’s Alzheimer’s in a recent show, and now David Baddiel has turned to his own parents for “My Family: Not the Sitcom”. Three comics, all in their 50s, all in the biz for 25 years-plus, suddenly having to process grief. Maybe even pre-empt it.
Baddiel’s chosen path is to be honest. More honest than I can describe here. His mother died recently and suddenly, and his father has a form of dementia, and yet this is a show utterly free from trite platitudes. Comedically speaking Baddiel is lucky to have some quite extraordinary anecdotes to tell about his parents, such as the brazen love affair his mum had with a bearded golf fanatic for decades, and his father’s bad behaviour in later life. But there’s no denying the quality of the show. From the detritus of death – the found objects, the unearthed stories, his own insistent memories – Baddiel has assembled a show of rare warmth, humanity and above all, laughter. And from the stalls it felt like it was healthy use of laughter; deployed to engage with the facts, not gloss over them. Baddiel uses humour to interrogate rather than deflect.
I’ve seen shows by grieving comedians where they haven’t been able to remove themselves from the centre of the action. My Family stands in contrast to that, impressive in its lack of ego. We join Baddiel in orbiting his parents, viewing aspect of them: the good, the bad and the scandalous. He asks questions about their actions and their true selves: why was his mum so open about her affair? How much are his dad’s eye-watering outbursts to do with the dementia, and how much is his real personality? Why the fuck can’t his mum use punctuation properly? The set is decked out like the inside of a home, with family photos on the wall – and Baddiel seems very comfortable in amongst it all, padding around, sipping from a mug of something or other.
One of the only occasions he turns the spotlight on himself is when justifying the show. It’s rare that a comedian will do this, but considering the content – and the quickness to judge that awaits every action, every tweet – it does make some sense. At the start of the show, he prepares the ground by showing us some of the more messages he’s received on Twitter where someone has made a preposterous objection to one of his tweets, or crowbarred Israel/Palestine into their reply. It’s a defensive way to kick things off, but it’s funny, and cleverly claws back some power from the offended to the offender. As it happens I don’t think anyone could argue My Family is disrespectful towards its subjects.
It seems that My Family was originally conceived by Baddiel for himself, to help process the tectonic changes in his life. On that front, he couldn’t have succeeded more: he’ll have this show for ever. To create such a tribute to his own parents is a remarkable gift to himself and anyone who knew them – especially his brothers, who also appear the way. But the show also been created with such generosity of spirit that we, the outsiders, are invited into the very heart of it, to feel the joy and pain it evokes.
An impressive show on many fronts.
Review by Paul Fleckney