Funny, but not magnificent …
A few things have changed since Greg Davies last presented us with a new show. Back in 2012 he was that massive bloke from Inbetweeners, now he’s the star of two sitcoms (Man Down and Cuckoo) and the host of Taskmaster. Also, his dad has died.
I seem to recall that in his debut show, Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog, Davies was critical of comics who cynically used personal trauma to get audiences onside – after all, he was the king of anarchy, the lord of misrule, he had no truck for emotional blackmail. Not so much now, as You Magnificent Beast winds its way around to being a tribute to his late father, who seems to have been the chief prankster in the Davies household.
I never quite bought that “no emotion in my shows” line anyway. Davies’s comedy is, in a roundabout way, a celebration of life. He might repeatedly tell us that xyz is “fucking shit” (children’s art, his own penis), or that so-and-so is a “fucking prick” (a 12-year-old child he used to teach), but it’s always done with a sense of elevating our human foibles, not berating them. With each criticism, I half expect him to follow it up with “ah but I love ya anyway”. His supposed negativity and zero tolerance for bullshit is only skin-deep, and never has a sense of meanness that you get from, say, Ricky Gervais. Instead, Davies’s shows are life-affirming – sentimental, even, though I suspect he’d hate to admit that – and that’s what makes them so much fun.
You Magnificent Beast is no exception, as uproarious and outrageous as we’ve come to expect from him, though not without its duff bits. The loose theme is how we are perceived by others, and how we are remembered. It’s a broad enough concept to capture a variety of routines, about how he wasn’t quite as good a teacher as he thought (according to a former pupil), and the moment an elderly friend caught a glimpse of a revealing selfie on his phone. His storytelling is as honed as ever, teasing things out, pulling handbrake turns, nailing his punchlines. One tale that went against his usual semi-bombastic style was a story of being inappropriately touched by a Harley Street doctor while having a medical – his delivery here is dainty, delicate, puckish. It’s a nice change.
The bad bits are all too obvious, and stem from plain lazy writing. His “getting middle-aged is rubbish” material is almost as predictable as him getting his belly out. Worse still is a routine about being sexually pursued by a blind date, whom he portrays as a gorilla. I wonder how long it took him to think of portraying her as a gorilla, my guess is not very long. It’s a cheap and kind of sexist routine that is completely at odds with the rest of the show. Also, his attempts to do impersonations of all three members of Aha is quite funny on paper, and clearly very funny to Davies, but not so much for the rest of us.
We eventually got round to confronting the subject of his dad’s death head-on, with a routine about his family being around the deathbed. It’s an odd routine. It feels like it should be the final moment of honesty, the authentic denouement of the show, but it turns into a story that is far too ludicrous to be true (about a doctor coming in and not getting the death-y vibe at all). Davies’s instincts for how far to push the limits of believability let him down a bit at this vital moment. He saves it, though, in the delivery – his depiction of his family, one by one leaving his dying dad’s bedside to go and listen to this doctor, is superb.
There are many laugh-out-loud parts of You Magnificent Beast, though, not least his routines at the top about his mum (as ever) saying the wrong thing, which is taken beyond the limits of just repeating what she’s said; and nobody here will be able to forget about the fate of Blue Ted, his poor home-made teddy bear.
So a strong return for Davies and a reassertion of what a powerful live comic he is, but there’s a bit too much filler for my liking.
Review by Paul Fleckney