Liam Williams’s latest show is hard to pin down. Self-deprecation is old news in comedy, but the kind of self-dissection he performs in
Mental instability may be the perfect vehicle for comedy so mercurial.
He is also, slyly, mocking the audience. In one running gag his attempt to define something everyday, putatively for the audience’s benefit, degenerates into inaudible mumbling: this will seem like a joke at his own expense only before it dawns on you that you couldn’t do much better. ‘You’ve gotta contrive a message,’ he says, contriving to lambast stand-up itself. Jokes rebound unstably until it becomes clear that instability is the show’s only real constant.
And mental instability may be the perfect vehicle for comedy so mercurial. A Fight Club-like split personality forms the show’s backbone, allowing Williams to deliver a running criticism of his own routine. How much of this — like a flat segment which the comedian claims ‘won’t be in the show tomorrow’ — is scripted? Impossible to say, but strangely exhilarating: a relief from routines like well-oiled clockwork, from the sense that a show would run identically even in an empty room.
But an awareness of defects can’t always neutralise them, and if the show is brilliant in ambition, it may be precisely a little tightening it needs. Williams squeezes guffaws from the confusion risked by his two personas, but loses the crowd once or twice with his rapid-fire alternations. He recovers well, though, and Capitalism as a whole provided ample laughs. If he can take another leaf from Bo Burnham’s book and hone his performance a little, Liam Williams should have an exceptional show on his hands.