Mark Nelson is an old-fashioned stand-up: disarmingly likeable, astoundingly at ease, a master of audience interaction. A raucous Saturday night crowd, armed with drunken repartee, was no match for Nelson, who humoured hecklers with such a calm intelligence you might have thought he was dealing with sleep-deprived toddlers trying to derail his grown-up dinner party, save for the uproarious laughter which followed every interaction.
Nelson’s crude material is not so much crafted, as wrapped in a newspaper, labelled ‘satire’, and lobbed through the audience’s front window.
Like any observational comic worth his salt, Nelson teases laughter out of the seemingly obvious. But the realm of ‘the obvious’ was ultimately his downfall. Much of his material felt well-worn, his political observations nothing that you couldn’t get from a witty but amateur Twitter raconteur, and the odd joke set-up felt eerily familiar, including mimicking a well-known Sarah Millican set. For someone happy to rip Trump supporters for their moronic racism (hardly startlingly new material, no matter how many ‘shocking’ fellatio jokes it was buried it in) Nelson heavily relied on the lowest common denominator and lazy stereotype to find the easiest way into a punchline.
The problem with the set was not its offensiveness, but its occasional lack of imagination. Nelson’s crude material is not so much crafted, as wrapped in a newspaper, labelled ‘satire’, and lobbed through the audience’s front window. But just as you grow tired of the diminishing returns of his schlock immaturity, he – like any good schoolboy prankster – turns on the charm: all big eyes, soft Scottish tones and, most disarmingly, a look of genuine joy at what he’s doing. Enraptured by his humanising, polished stage presence, the audience was entirely ready to be shocked by Nelson’s self-described brand of ‘dark’ humour. What we were not expecting was to be just a little bit bored.
The turn-off was not the crudity of what Nelson was saying, but the lack of originality behind it – besides, of course, his effortless delivery which could bring comic timing to a shopping list. Nelson delivers an easy night of near-constant laughter; watching him feels like going for a pint with a mate at their absolute funniest. Despite the clear intelligence with which he handles his audience, what he lacks is any immaculately put-together set piece; nothing that will interrupt your daily life as you suddenly cry with laughter purely at the idea of it; nothing that will make you want to impulsively look it up on YouTube and relive the brilliance of it.
When not a stand-up, Nelson is the brains behind the viral The News at 3, featuring his daughter (who proves that the charm is definitely in the genes). Until his ‘Irreverence’ set matches the intelligence of his off-the-cuff reactions, his words, not out of place in a playground, might well remain funnier in the mouths of babes.