Andrew Lawrence isn’t a fan, to say the least, of strident, militant lefties. They’re dogmatic. They’re aggressive. They’re strident again. Quickly we hit a repeated cadence of annoyance that smacks of Russell Brand, even though he’s a comedian (or more optimistically an ‘activist') Lawrence wants to disown. Along with 'smug, elitist Oxbridge' Stewart Lee, 'self-righteous' Frankie Boyle and Lenny Henry, who’s 'set a bad precedent'. And I’ve left out the many superfluous expletives.
There are some fantastically sharp jokes with well-developed build-up
Uncensored is – hold back the gasps – devoted to freedom of expression, in spite of Lawrence’s attempts to stifle the opinions of that successful bunch. Yes, it’s downbeat, depressing stuff – we are informed of this fact in a typically self-effacing fashion – but there is a lofty ambition to be unashamedly centre-right and wholesomely un-PC. 'We’re not allowed to talk about these things' apparently.
Unfortunately, the hang-up that there’s a lot of inoffensive stand-up out there is just bloody odd. In the last week or so I’ve heard Gary Little jest about hitting children, Janey Godley yearn to be locked in a creep’s bunker and Alun Cochrane aspire to the life experience of a teenage terrorist. Is that all vanilla then? Or is 'inoffensive' silently modified by ‘left wing’ (like every damn line is)?
For someone trying to shock, there is no intelligent shock factor here. There are plenty of references to suicidal contemplation (a gruesome abstract exploration of possible methods isn’t anything a Game of Thrones binge-watcher can’t handle), racial/religious tensions and Nazism. The blasé approach to terms such as 'mental disability' and the punchline of a rape joke are just insensitive, made more unforgivably so because they don’t bring in worthwhile laughs.
Lawrence is at his finest when his high-pitched, gleeful chuckle gives the audience an excuse to be charmed by a Jon Richardson-like awkwardness. 'No one knows who I am, bemoans Lawrence, and one lady chirps up, 'we do'. There are some fantastically sharp jokes with well-developed build-up involving Jacuzzis, defeatist five-year plans, sweetcorn, narcolepsy, the obese, girls’ names, Jeremy Clarkson, Cecil the lion: the sheer volume and range of topical output is impressive. A bit on Tim Hunt’s sacking is perceptive and a personal take on 12 Years a Slave majestic; both warrant the ticket price.
But a remark on the NHS’s efficiency supposing that the US’s health system is top-notch, and austerity comments lacking incisiveness highlight what feels like laziness, but is hopefully something else. The final joke about Lawrence’s girlfriend is a killer, though I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The 'deflationary' (more accurate than 'reactionary') was also taken off track by a loud fan and obnoxious audience coughs, before claiming 'we get you can improvise'. Do we?
I think it’s too easy to try to alarm by disparaging what many see as good or generally innocuous (the BBC, foreign nurses, positive discrimination) and siding with ‘Enemies of The Guardian’ (Cameron’s 'swarm' wording and tight immigration controls, Dapper Laughs, men’s rights). Lawrence constantly warns 'I could be wrong'; at one point 'careful what you say'.
Censorship is one thing, but putting things well is another, as the ‘swarm’ debacle confirms and Lawrence might need to learn. Not making generalising statements that put down all of humanity would help. He affirms that no one would offer a homeless man a bath to sleep in, to make another depressing argument. Well, there are kind people who would if it was the only way to get a suffering stranger out of the cold.
There are repeated complaints about the commercialised comedy scene and the media obsession with ‘victimhood’, whose Urban Dictionary entry seems to have been written by Lawrence himself (‘A coveted status sought after by liberals’). That would be fine if Uncensored weren’t a sell-out, liberally-postered headline show about a man who’s experienced 'the worst that can happen to a stand-up'. Lawrence squirms at the bad taste in his mouth while rubbing his belly, and that’s just about the degree to which he misses the mark here.