A thrilling ride from an original comic
Sometimes you see a show that’s not exactly neat and tidy or structurally sound, but boy is it a showcase of a serious comic talent. Body of Work is just that. Jordan Brookes burst on to the scene a few years ago, and he hasn’t hung about, getting nominated for the main award at this year’s Edinburgh with only his third show. Body of Work is definitely worth seeing before this run ends on Sunday. It’s very very good. It’s also quite hard to describe. He is quite hard to describe.
As it happens, the difficulty in putting Brookes in a neat little box is part the show’s success. He’s not ill-defined, he’s a one-man genre. As far as I can see, there are three main strands to his comedy. First is his lithe physicality, which is central to a lot of what he does – it’ not just a delivery system for his comedy, it’s sometimes the comedy itself. Second, there’s his clever-clever deconstructive streak: he plays with the conventions of performance with such easy mastery you wonder how some of his meta-gags haven’t been done before. His utterly inconsequential bit about walking an invisible dog is so exquisite I could have kissed my fingers (after I stopped pissing myself, that is).
His third thing is to occasionally dive into something approaching straightforward observational comedy, with set-ups that are sound completely hackneyed compared to everything else that’s going on. “Have you ever been on a train journey and your phone runs out?!” He sounds like David Baddiel in his Mary Whitehouse days, talking about how toothpaste goes hard when you leave the lid off. An hour of that would be lame, but in the context of the show, it’s kind of grounding, and prevents things from running away from us all in a blaze of self-indulgence. Also, his punchlines – such as they are – are rarely as super-conventional as the setups. His answer to the question “who grabs their balls without sniffing their hand?!” has a terrific visual payoff.
It should all add up to a bitty, insubstantial show that makes you think he should pick a type of comedy and stick to it. In fact, it works remarkably well. The quality of his material is just so strong that the time zips by, despite any obvious central purpose to it (I question whether he needs quite so many inappropriate jokes – I say that not to be prudish, but because it feels like a lazy go-to for him). It helps that he’s such a compelling performer. He’s like a malfunctioning Robert Webb, performing from the very depths of his soul, telling jokes during his own exorcism.
There is a heart to Body of Work, though. Near the start he tells us that he’s going to tell us about his recently deceased nan. He then spends the next 45 minutes avoiding doing just that, before eventually succumbing to the inevitable. At that point we get a shocking confession, a mental health self-diagnosis, and a few about-turns about what is true and what isn’t. The fact that he’s a convincing actor leaves you wondering exactly that the truth is, and as climaxes go it isn’t exactly a clean landing. But it doesn’t exactly matter, either. Ambiguity, inadvertently or otherwise, is central to this show.
Body of Work is far from perfect: there are dips, and it feels like he needs a director to channel his talents into something really substantial, but I can think of no other comedian who could entertain you in quite such a way, and I guess that’s the point.
Review by Paul Fleckney