An Evening with Phil Differ

Phil Differ is not someone you’d immediately recognise. Certainly Joan Collins didn’t, back in the day, assuming that – given he was standing next to Robbie Coltrane at some BAFTA ceremony in the 1980s – he just must be Billy Connolly. She wasn’t completely off the mark; the Glasgow accent’s certainly similar, and his range of comedic subjects is just as personally scatological. Differ is just as amazed as Connolly by the peculiarities of life, especially once you reach middle age. He’s just nowhere near as in-your-face; the speech is slower, more measured. He’s funny, yes, but there’s little of the Big Yin’s risqué sense of danger.

Differ is amusing, certainly, but there are a few brief moments when you do wonder just how interested he really is in stand up comedy.

This is, by no means, a bad thing, and suits Differ’s generally middle-aged audience well. You relax in his company, reassured that – whatever else may happen – he’s not going to deliver a comedic road crash. While Differ may be relatively new to stand-up comedy, his whole career – barring a few early years lost being demoted within the then-telecommunications section of the Post Office (later British Telecom, later still BT) – has been making people laugh. As a writer, producer and director working on many of Scotland’s most famous and popular TV shows – from Scotch & Wry and Naked Video to City Lights and Rab C Nesbitt – Differ has clearly picked up some tips from performers as distinctive as Rikki Fulton and Gregor Fisher.

Admittedly, initially hooking a standup routine on how Glaswegians are “chuffed they didn’t make an arse of the Commonwealth Games” does seem a bit out of date, even though it’s just two years ago. A reference to the discovery of Gravitational Wave proves Differ’s keeping up on recent events, but he disappointingly doesn’t really do much with it beyond asking “So What?” On this occasion, performing in Musselburgh (rather than in nearby Edinburgh), he also seemed slightly lost without the easy fall-back crutch of the deep cultural rivalry between the Scottish capital and its western neighbour.

Although promoted as a show of two halves – 45 minutes of stand up, followed by reminisces from his 35 years working in television – there was less of a change of comedic tack than might be expected; the unhurried delivery remained, and the peculiarities of his world view not that different either. Differ’s approach to life, as much as his work, appears to be summed up as: “Never try hard at something you’re not interested in.” Differ is amusing, certainly, but there are a few brief moments when you do wonder just how interested he really is in stand up comedy.

That said, he does deliver some genuine laugh-out loud moments; some well-placed, well-timed and delivered punchlines. He may never be recognised as one of Scotland’s comedic legends, but he’s certainly worth catching if you can.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Comedy writer, producer, director and comedian Phil Differ presents an evening of two halves. In the first, stand-up comedy; in the second, showbiz tales from a career spanning 35 years.

In his own inimitable laid-back style, Phil reminisces on his misspent youth, discusses the problems of being a middle-aged man trapped in a 20 year old’s body, and reveals how you go from being a failed accounts clerk with British Telecom to becoming Senior Producer in BBC Scotland’s Comedy Unit and being part of the team responsible for such television shows as Naked Video, City Lights, Rab C. Nesbitt, Scotch and Wry and Only an Excuse?

“I love Phil Differ. He’s the quiet genius of Scottish Comedy.”– Rory Bremner