This article was originally published to The Edge on 26th May 2015
When Dara O’Briain walks out onto the large stage of the Pavilion theatre, without any support or warm-up acts, he strides straight to the front and centre of it all. Then, for the next two hours of his show, excluding a short 20 minute interval, he holds the attention of his audience. One man on one very big stage.
O’Briain’s energy and interactions with the crowd create the sense of an enormous stature. For the entire show, he barely seems to stop for a breath that isn’t a calculated part of the performance. The one time he does it is to drink some water during the encore, and he can squeeze a laugh from a willing crowd with that. In his two hour long show, the only time you could be compelled to look at a watch would be to make sure he was not quite finished yet. Before the beginning of his closing piece he warns the audience that he will soon go off the stage, and then come back after a few seconds signalling the end of the gig. Yet said closing piece lasts at least ten highly amusing minutes. Approaching the gendered brain from a straightforward perspective, he is as incisive and thoughtful as ever, and is never unfunny.
In fact, O’Briain’s comedic talents are a testament to the power of comedy. Big scientific issues are discussed, with his brilliant ability to make the discussion relatable and entirely understandable. At other points in the gig he tackles the utterly mundane, such as modern technology and TV watching habits, by elevating the ridiculous aspects. In one brilliant segment, he calls on members of the audience to help him write a TV script about a serial killer and a detective. If he scripted the entire bit himself it would perhaps be more incisive, yet without the audience it could be the same every time. For instance, we would not be privy to an idea where a skiing serial killer who tortures and murders his victims using a football is pursued by a detective with a permanently broken leg undercover as a midwife. O’Briain himself is not safe. Just as he shows the crowd how great a dancer he truly is, he will not refrain from disgracing his lack of sincere emotions. One can only think that if he tackled even bigger political and social morays with his wit, the crowd could emerge into the world outside the theatre enlightened.
This style of relatable, but never stupid humour is a huge part of what makes O’Briain so much fun on stage. Outside of the brilliant script writing routine, he calls on audience members early on in the show, and elaborates wild fantasies about them based on what little information he is given. One man who was a hedge-fund manager in France before returning to Bournemouth to start a music college became possibly the hero of the night. The woman that suggested ‘midwife’ for the TV show, at the time six months pregnant, was a point of sympathy and constant apologies from the comedian. Upon being loudly corrected by an audience member on a piece of throwaway information he turned and began a motor-mouthed, highly exasperated yet energetic reaction, spending a full-minute on the diversion. Tiny moments like that, which could be ignored by other comedians or dismissed, become iconic “you had to be there” moments of his shows.
If there is a single downside to Crowd Tickler it’s that O’Briain rattles through his material with such pace, and such ease, there is no single stand-out piece. There are moments of great inventiveness, and incisiveness. Several instances of brilliant physical performance, such as a demonstration of the best way to use stairs. However in between all the bigger pieces there are smaller jokes and zingers that land like a ton of bricks on a cartoon rabbit. You will forget more great jokes from this set than could be told at another comedian’s night.
Dara O’Briain’s Crowd Tickler is touring until the 28th November 2015