Papa CJ takes the audience through chapters of his life, with the idea of simultaneously removing metaphorical and physical layers, as he strips in front of us. Brought up in India with a working class background, he guides us through dark periods of his life, alongside lighter observational anecdotes.
Ever aware that there is no topic more universally interesting than Papa CJ's own opinion of Papa CJ, he takes the time to rubbish an unnamed reviewer's criticism that the tonal shifts are jarring, proclaiming this format to be a bold and brave choice
It's a neat idea, slowly shedding clothes to literalise the comic's emotional exposure. Sometimes, a stand up can be a fragile figure, isolated on the lonely stage, trapped by the unrelenting and unforgiving spotlight. Sometimes, it's easy to wonder if this is all comedy or therapy, a personal catharsis made socially acceptable through shared laughter. Sometimes, a show lives up to its title.
In case you're wondering, there's no penis on display. There's little of Papa CJ's soul either. Notionally guiding the audience through a period of heartbreak, depression, divorce and family estrangement, about the only sentiment which comes across clearly and sincerely is his own self-regard. Papa CJ is, he tells us, 'Asia's best stand-up comedian,' and no anecdote about his career is allowed to go by without assurance that the audience loved him and that the venue was packed.
This might well be true, and there's no doubting he is an assured and polished performer, but in a Fringe full of comics he does little to stand out, as he muses on middle-of-the-road material such as whether Gillette is, in fact, 'the best a man can get,' or poking fun at the famously challenging target of George W. Bush. Elsewhere, he projects something of a shallow 90s laddishness with almost naïve irony-free bragging about drink-driving and a sniggering gynaecology gag the average schoolboy would think too easy to bother with.
The show is structured around switches from these featherlight observational jokes, to periods of supposed darkness and personal reflection, each culminating with a layer of clothing removed. Ever aware that there is no topic more universally interesting than Papa CJ's own opinion of Papa CJ, he takes the time to rubbish an unnamed reviewer's criticism that the tonal shifts are jarring, proclaiming this format to be a bold and brave choice, a reflection of his dramatically varied life experience.
Yet what stands out is how little his experiences have impacted him in any significant way. He lost custody of his son because Indian courts are biased against men, and that is that: no reflection, no insight, and certainly no criticism of Papa CJ, who instead has no contact, is free to be a globe-trotting, mirth-spreading, parental-reponsibility-shedding spirit.
Papa CJ does have a slick delivery and can shine the passable into something smile-raising; there's an unexpected tension and release involved in stripping off a layer of clothing. But the actual emotional content appears forced and insincere. Instead of revealing the inner workings of his mind and baring his soul, Papa CJ provides a brief description of life events that have happened and may have momentarily hurt him, but have not changed him – indeed, they have scarcely made him pause for thought.