Two years ago, when Channel 4 broadcast their list of the hundred greatest stand-ups, voted for by the public, a good many of those watching were probably surprised when a strange little bearded man named Daniel Kitson popped up at number 27, higher than the likes of Bob Monkhouse, Lenny Henry and Graham Norton. Even Channel 4 were probably surprised, the only clip they could find to show was a some poorly shot hand held video footage of the man at an improbably young age.
Kitson has always been something of an oddity in the comedy world, a prodigy who set out at the age of 16 with the ambition to be the best comedian in the world. Not necessarily the most famous, just the best. Whether he has succeeded or not is a matter of taste, but the fact that, despite steering a course which has not included television exposure or the endless rounds of comedy panel shows, his two nights at The Stand were sold out a month in advance, demonstrates how firmly his reputation has rooted itself among the comedy literate.
In recent years Kitson has been moving away from pure comedy towards shows which are scripted monologues, a cross between traditional stand-up and theatre. This show doesn’t quite straddle that line to the same extent as his last few, it remains Kitson talking to his audience rather than going into character, but nonetheless it is a rigidly structured piece focussed around a single idea, which is remarkable for its length.
All told, Kitson is on stage for a little over two hours, although the show itself, as he describes it, takes up one and three quarters of that, the remainder being a warm up and introduction, part explanation of what he is trying to do, part general comedy, and a small part involving a quite devastating put-down of an audience heckler which shows that, whatever else might have changed along the way, he’s still got the goods to deliver.
The show itself revolves around an incident which occurred on the night before Kitson moved out of his flat, a quite slight tale but one which takes on greater and greater significance as he takes diversion after diversion, examining the implications of the incident from every angle and with each revelation leading to the next dilemma. Along the way he takes us through a thorough exploration of the morality of the modern world, and the idea that we all want our world to be a better place but none of us are prepared to do what it takes to bring it about while being critical of others for failures no worse than our own.
And if all that sounds extraordinarily heavy for a comedy show, it is. But in Kitson’s capable hands it is also extremely funny. Delivered at almost inhuman pace, no line of inquiry is left unfollowed, no thought unexplored, and every word is carefully selected and relished until the result becomes almost comedic poetry, floating over an audience who have to work almost as hard as the performer just to take it all in.
And therein lies the one problem with this show. Because two hours without a break is a long time for any comedy audience to concentrate, without the level of complexity and intensity that Kitson brings to the table, and the result is that there are times during the show that you find yourself tuning out and just letting the words wash over you for a while before girding your loins to dive back in.
So while this show is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement, there is such a thing as being too damned clever for your own good, and this probably steps a little too far across that line. Regardless, whatever the shortcomings, Kitson in full flow is a sight to behold, and in the end he only solidifies his reputation and delivers some of the most thought-provoking material you will ever hear while laughing. Overlong and often overcomplicated it may be, but every other comedian in the country would kill to be this good.