To say that Paul Mayhew-Archer is not afraid to poke fun at himself would be the understatement of the last decade. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011 at the age of 58, Mayhew-Archer forwent self-pity in lieu of stand-up and charity work. As the host later comments, “I look for the funny side of Parkinson’s.” And indeed it is funny. Morbidly so. The grim subject of debilitating diseases does not prevent the Abingdon comic from winning over the audience with eloquent storytelling reminiscent of the likes of Terry Jones and Peter Sellers.
Underlying both the comedy and the stark reality of such conditions is the notion of optimism when confronted with dreadful situations
A central tenant of Mayhew-Archer is that no subject is out of bounds. Now don’t mistake that for shock value; he is not attempting to be purposefully offensive for the sake of garnering a small trickle of awkward laughs. Rather, the dark humour masks the host’s aversion for the patronising sympathy from outsiders incapable of conceiving the pain of such afflictions. And whilst Parkinson’s is the central focus, cancer, depression and disability are all on the menu, all topics the former Vicar of Dibley writer has sadly witnessed or experienced first-hand throughout the duration of his life.
He gives no impression that he is trying too hard to be funny, given he is handling such delicate topics. Instead, Mayhew-Archer’s gift in making audiences laugh and applaud at such grim material is indicative of a man who goes at his own pace with slow burner jokes which evolve into comedic juggernauts that set the room into fits of laughter and rapturous applause.
There is a touching moment towards the end when Mayhew-Archer reflects on his mother’s cancer when he was a child and goes on to explain that his original intentions for entering the world of comedy were not wrought out of a desire for fame, nor simply out of a desire to make others laugh, but to make himself feel happier in the aftermath of her tragic death. It is this uncanny ability to switch the tone so seamlessly that sets Paul Mayhew-Archer apart from other practitioners of gallows-humour and deservedly earns him a standing ovation at the end.
But underlying both the comedy and the stark reality of such conditions is the notion of optimism when confronted with dreadful situations. Mayhew-Archer aptly notes that we need to give ourselves, our friends and our families the chance to laugh at such terrible illnesses when the chips are down. And in the wake of his invigorating one-man act, one begins to wonder if laughter really is the best medicine. Truly, Paul Mayhew-Archer’s message of striving in the face of adversity through laughter embellishes the better side of British humour.