Death Of A Comedian Targets Mainstream Stand Up

By Stuart Black Last edited 32 months ago
Death Of A Comedian Targets Mainstream Stand Up ★★★☆☆ 3

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Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Playwright Owen McCafferty’s last play at the Soho Theatre was an intense meditation on the bitter legacy of The Troubles in Northern Ireland which quietly blew us away. His new play here, Death Of A Comedian, is a very different piece, focusing on the progress of a stand-up comic (Brian Doherty) as his career takes him from backroom dive bars to the big time thanks to a wily agent (Shaun Dingwall) who knows what sells and how best to sell it.

It’s a familiar Faustian journey, with The Comedian (as Doherty's character is called) ignoring the warnings of his Girlfriend (Katie McGuiness) before agreeing to compromise his act so he can get the top slots, TV panel shows and other trappings on offer if he can make it into the country’s comedy elite.

Clearly McCafferty loathes mainstream stand-up and sees the punkish spirit of plucky pub wannabes as having far greater artistic integrity. That might seem a reasonable point but the angrier this play gets the more it feels like a throwback opinion and a strangely cynical one too — do comedians who gig for charity really do so solely to boost their profile and get ahead of the rest?

The anger in the play's veins is also a problem for the drama. Though the dialogue is well-written, the three main characters are flattened to archetypes (as their names suggest) in order that McCafferty can get his ire off his chest. Girlfriend and Agent play the roles of angel and devil sitting on The Comedian’s shoulders with little variation in their mantras — she says ‘don’t sell out’, he says ‘you must’ and round and round they go.

In between the conversations about integrity and purpose we get chunks of The Comedian’s routine, some of which work well, but some of which miss the mark, especially as we get several variations on the same jokes, the delivery morphing depending on which of his guardians The Comedian is listening to more.

There is an interesting idea here but the final product is flawed. It should be short and punchy, yet the play lacks the requisite amount of drama to propel it forward. Strong performances and a few moments of clever stagecraft by director Steve Marmion make up for the sections that drag, but overall it feels like the whole concept needs more thought and a little less choler.

Death Of A Comedian runs at the Soho Theatre until 16 May. Tickets £15-20. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 18 April 2015