While I tire of people’s incredulity at a non-alcoholic choosing to quit booze, as is the case with myself, it’s hard to be too defensive against anyone who peddles remarks such as Dean Martin’s “I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day” as one effect of quitting drinking is that the bipolarity of the ‘night-out’ experience is levelled out. This has certainly been the case with watching comedy. I am certainly much more aware of what’s causing my laughter, and am less given to rolling-on-the-floor reactions.
Not that this makes me any more perceptive a critic, but I know now that when something moves me, it’s genuine, rather than lubricated. In sobriety I recall only twice crying with uncontrollable laughter; first was courtesy of Justin Edwards’ ‘Jeremy Lion’ character at the 2004 Fringe and, now, this London reprise of Mike Wozniak’s if.comeddie Best Newcomer-nominated Edinburgh show.
Let’s get the critique out of the way first though. Wozniak’s very deliberate delivery is both a strength and a weakness. The crafted wordsmithery of his tales are given a beautiful rhythm, but also fuses a bit too easily with the style of Richard Herring, something made all the more apparent by Herring’s Edinburgh show ‘The Headmaster’s Son’ following twenty minutes after this*.
However, while Herring increasingly is mining a intellectualised shock-value seam that tries to create a tension before subverting, Wozniak aims for the right level of squirm, taking grotesque, coprophilic and penoscrotal imagery but wrapping it up in such tight lyrical nuggets that they easily bypass offensiveness.
While the delivery may be reminiscent of both Herring and his erstwhile colleague Stewart Lee, the take on his subject matter is much more akin to Rhod Gilbert, particularly the Welshman’s latest “…Award Winning Mince Pie” show, where reality is bubbled, stretched and warped so as to have a surreality whilst retaining an anchor in the conceivable.
His Polish background and his moustache (the kind you could lose your dinner in) are weaved in and out of the tales but in the most part the stories concern his amateur scientist father and yarn-spinning grandparents. How much is actually true scarcely matters, as his characterisation embodies these figures with distinct warmth, despite the often gruesome nature of the stories. The call-back lines don’t always work as well as they might, but the dovetail at the end, bringing all his narrative threads together in the form of imparted advice, is a triumphant pay-off.
*As a side point, £6 for two full-length hour shows in central London is a real steal; Alexis Dubus and Sy Thomas, the comics behind ‘Falling Down With Laughter’, should be duly commended.