The Stand, Edinburgh
Daniel Kitson occupies an enviable position for a stand-up comic. While so many at the Fringe struggle to fill their venues, he has no such problem. The tickets for this ‘work in progress’ performance went on sale at noon yesterday, which is when I confidently slipped two of them into my online basket. By the time I’d managed to key in my card details (roughly one minute later), all one hundred and twenty tickets for the show had gone, including mine. Grrr. In the end, we only get to see this because we are prepared to queue for an hour in the pouring rain for two of the twenty tickets that have been kept in reserve on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I know, I know, we must really want those tickets – but since we’ve been trying to see him for something like three years now, we’re prepared to make the sacrifice.
Oh, one other thing. Kitson doesn’t like reviewers. So we make a point of not wearing anything that will identify us as such, and now here we sit in the front row of The Stand, as Kitson shambles quietly out with a notebook and a collection of Post It notes tucked under his arm…
And perhaps it’s unfair to review a performance that so unabashedly announces its intentions – and is not ‘the show’ – but we’re going to do it anyway, because hey, that’s what we do.
He explains how this all came about. He has an upcoming booking in Manchester, and he wants to add some new material, so this is an opportunity to ‘try out some ideas’ on a live audience, something that will hopefully frighten him into writing new material. Now, we’ve all seen shows like this in our time and they are generally hit and miss affairs – the comic pausing to study the notes, trying out gags that don’t quite work and crossing them off a list. Kitson, is much more open about the process, commenting when things go badly and using each failure as a launchpad into a whole new angle, occasionally even bursting into an improvised song about what’s just happened. You might describe it as ‘stream of consciousness’ material, but the results are way funnier than you might reasonably expect from such an approach.
There’s obviously no strong thematic narrative here but Kitson’s observations and canny put-downs always seem to hit home, whether he’s admitting to his own privilege, or pedantically examining popular sayings to demonstrate how wrong they can be. ‘It’s the way he tells them’ was the catchphrase of an entirely different sort of comic, back in the day, but has never been truer than it is here. Kitson has the knack of making the most unpromising line sound hilarious. When he’s putting us down with vicious accuracy, we laugh all the louder. He’s an expert at deflating pomposity, at making us examine our own middle-class guilt. ‘Does anybody here have a cleaner?’ he asks at one point, and then, ‘How do you justify that?’
So, was the wait worth it? Yes, definitely. Is Kitson a gifted comic? Yes, undoubtedly. And will his show be slicker and more polished by the time it reaches Manchester? I’m guessing, probably not. Because that rambling, thrown-together quality is kind of what makes Kitson unique as a performer and may just be the chief reason he has so many avid followers.
Go and see him in Manchester and let us know what you think. But, word to the wise – don’t hang about making a booking. Those tickets can have a nasty habit of doing a vanishing act.