Live Review: Simon Day And Friends

simon day and friends indexThese are strange days for comedy as bar drive-in gigs there’s been no live stand up performances for months now, but many a comic has been trying out the next best thing by live streaming their set to a silent audience. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it has accentuated just how weak their material is, as without a laughing audience its been hard to believe that something could ever be considered even vaguely amusing, and sadly that’s all too often the case with Day’s show which is an incredibly patchy hour of comedy.

If you somehow don’t know who Simon Day is then you’ve somehow missed out on some of the funniest series this isle has produced, including The Fast Show, The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, Bellamy’s People, Vic Reeves Big Night Out and a good few others and now from this long and impressive career he’s plucked three of his most loved character to appear in this one man show – The Fast Show’s Billy Bleach and Dave Angel, and Down the Line and Bellamy’s People Geoffrey Allerton, with each roughly getting twenty minutes.

Whether or not this is exactly what Day was going to perform at his now cancelled live gigs is open to question but I hope anyone paying a larger sum would witness something a little more polished. Perhaps it’s a result of the show taking place in his home but the performances feel rather subdued, both Bleach and Angel contain a fair amount of material that is a little embarrassing, and it’s only in the final part that it starts becoming consistently entertaining. By that point a good ten people had stopped watching though, and I can’t say I blame them.

Rather than beginning the show as himself it was introduced by Billy Bleach, where he told us that this was to be the last of the lockdown specials as everything supposedly returns to normal tomorrow, and we were then giving a monologue all about Bleach’s life. This included quite weak stories from his warped upbringing where at 11 he was already only reading pornography, and that he’s unemployed as “I did apply for a job in 1975, didn’t get it, thought fuck it” with Day’s abrupt delivery of the line generating the first laugh of the show.

Material about Billy’s son followed and it started off in a fairly decent way, where Billy talked about how he wouldn’t let him play violent computer games but they do play a very unusual version of Hangman, with Billy boasting about how they’ve never hung a woman somewhat amusingly. But then it went downhill as he did a routine about visiting an art gallery with his son which was just plain weak, lacking a single funny moment, and a gag about how he wished he could play dialogue from Carry On movies in to the headphones people pay to listen to was really poor.

At least it wasn’t actively terrible I suppose, but frustratingly that did apply to a final part where Bleach told a joke involving a race between a rabbit and a mole where the loser of the race is buggered by the winner. Day might be able to pretend that it’s Bleach’s sense of humour that allows for this tiresome nonsense, but that doesn’t excuse the awful pay off, and it wasn’t exactly as if this wasn’t the only dodgy gag either, one bit about incest was followed by him saying “Friday night, can’t do these jokes no more…Oh right you can’t” but Day was trying to have his cake and eat it and it was a bit painful to see.

Alas the show got even worse when Day took on the guise of Dave Angel, the now ex-eco warrior, at least it was the show’s shortest segment but some really insipid gags about helping the environment by staging a campaign to remove baked beans and cauliflower cheese from school dinners was the kind of thing you might have expected to hear from an eighties stand up comedian, while some jokes were just plain lazy, like one bit where Angel said “My dear old mum’s gone to a better place. Marbella” and I found myself groaning out loud.

Now that Angel’s no longer an eco warrior he’s supposed decided to devote his time to helping out with men who suffer from mental illness of his age, or anyone who’s “Just a bit miffed that casual racism is no longer in vogue down the boozer”. He details some of his unfunny methods before boasting that they have “a 14% success rate in the Essex area”, all of which wasn’t offensive at least but it sure isn’t amusing. Which also applies to him ending the part in a manner akin to that of the Billy Bleach segment as he told a joke about two Victorian explorers who wanted to cook a pig but end up roasting a pygmy, and it’s just terrible. Again Day could argue that it’s the character whose sense of humour is weak and whose views are dodgy, but that doesn’t excuse the laziness and the kind of bait and switch gags which you could not only see a mile off but really wish didn’t exist.

At this point I was starting to feel actively annoyed that I’d wasted time and money watching the show, and my opinion of a man I’d previously been a big fan of was plummeting by the second. But thankfully the final character Day chose to perform as, the Alan Bennett inspired poet Geoffrey Allerton, was genuinely funny. Rather than doing material about his life or telling anecdotes this was just poem after poem, and all the better for it.

Allerton promised a mix of new and old poems and it wasn’t difficult to work out which were which if only because the newer, topical poems weren’t as funny as the older ones. But several did work extremely effectively, “The Circus” especially as Allerton lamented the past and which had a really great line about Su Pollard, while one which followed about mosquito’s and where they go to at night was strong too, not quite as good perhaps but the blunt description of one of those bitey buggers as “Count Fuckula” made me laugh.

A new poem entitled “I Am Boring” about the lockdown and the lack of cultural events was bland alas, and a supposedly ironic take on the kind of idiots who want to “Protect the statues, man the barricades, hold the fort” could have been from the perspective of Billy Bleach and simply wasn’t funny. Also a little dodgy was one about how he wished he was properly gay too, and a poem about Insomnia didn’t really go anywhere, but these weaker moments were thankfully for once the exception and a romantic poem that contained the line “I am a coffee revel rejected by a diabetic. I am Liam Gallagher” was genuinely great, as was an ode to England which was initially deliberately mundane but then became sillier as it went on.

Day is a fantastic comic performer, one of my favourites in the world, and he’s proven just how funny he can be for three decades now. But this highlighted that writing is not his forte, at least most of the time, the first section with Billy Bleach was all over the place, the second with Dave Angel was mostly actively poor, and if it weren’t for Allerton this would have been a far more damning review. I suppose I should be grateful that I saw this online though and at the cost of just a fiver though, as if I’d paid his usual prices to see him live in person then I’d have been all but furious.

★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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