It can’t be easy living in the shadow of genius. To most people, if they know of Dwight Slade at all, it is as Bill Hicks’ best friend and former writing partner. Even now, fourteen years after his death and more than a quarter of a century after they went their separate ways, it is still a role he is defined by, so much so that he even makes oblique reference to the fact in his own introduction. Yet the truth is, Slade has been out on his own since well before Hicks’ rise to prominence, and if he hasn’t quite reached the same level of eminence, he has at least made it to somewhere near the top of the comedy tree, not through association, but on his own merits.
This was his last performance in Europe before heading back to his home in Seattle the next day, and for an artist more used to performing on big stages and Comedy Central TV specials, maybe a wet Tuesday night in a basement in Scotland might have seemed something of a comedown. But if so, it didn’t show, and though his name might not mean so much on this side of the Atlantic, for those in the know, a decent sized crowd including Scottish TV comedian Craig Hill, it was a rare chance to see one of America’s brightest talents at work at close quarters.
Like Hicks, Slade’s comedy is mostly based on being slightly pissed off with the stupidity of the world. But where they differ is that Slade clearly still cares whether or not the audience like him at the end of the show. He never quite goes for the jugular, careful not to cross over that line of making his audience feel uncomfortable. But nonetheless, he has a wealth of strong material to draw on, and surely one of the advantages for a US based comedian playing over here is that he can pick and choose the best parts of many years worth of shows, secure in the knowledge that he has an audience coming to it with fresh ears.
Occasionally this doesn’t quite work. Performing material about having just had his fortieth birthday, for instance, seems slightly incongruous when you do the maths and realise he has to be closer to fifty, but what it does do is allow him to perform for a full two hours without ever running out of steam or suffering any serious dip in quality.
The overriding theme of the show is that of the difference between rational and irrational behaviour, characterised by those who listen to the Evil Monkey which sits on your shoulder telling you to do all the things you really want to do but know you shouldn’t. Much of this focusing on the general self-absorbed behaviour of others, from people with hands free phones shouting in the supermarket to the guy on the plane rubbing his backside against your face while trying to fit his baggage in the overhead locker. And most of it results in the object of his fury meeting with a violent response at the sharp end of his imaginary pool-cue.
Meanwhile, the highlight of the show is a five minute set-piece mime in which Slade demonstrates to the audience why car radios are a far greater hazard to the road user than alcohol. Contorting his body as he tunes from station to station, each song provoking an exaggerated response from headbanging to disco dancing, it’s clearly a well rehearsed routine honed to perfection.
Slade is an infrequent visitor to our country, but luckily for us he enjoys coming here because it allows him to say the things he can’t get away with in his native land. So hopefully it won’t be too long before he feels the need to let off steam on our shores once again. When he does, seek him out, because you will find it well worth the effort.