Phil Nichol seems unsure what he wants from his audience. After starting his set of rapid rants with a complaint about the previous night’s audience, he proceeded to ask why we weren’t the Jim Jefferies crowd whenever a punchline failed to make an impact. It’s all a front, however – Phil Nichols is too nice a person to deliver Jim Jefferies material or to ever really insult his audience. Fortunately, the audience knew that too and every reproachful comment was met with a bellyful of laughter.
Nichol seemed to be having a bad night, garbling a lot of his words and occasionally his punchlines, though given that each word left his body at approximately a hundred miles an hour it’s understandable that some arrived bent out of shape. For the most part he recovered well, repeating himself when a crucial joke was missed and his inherent likeability carried him through. A larger problem was when the speed of his delivery simply lost the audience and it must be noted that a show billed as an hour long finished after fifty minutes – there is time for Nichol to slow down a smidgen. Certainly his last tirade, which feels like a particularly clever, furious performance poet trying to make his name, deserves better diction to carry the very funny jokes across.
There are clangers in some of his material – at one point he admitted one of his jokes has bombed at every Edinburgh show so far – but these are usually followed up by an impression that makes the audience roar with laughter, his air steward being a particular highlight. Occasionally he repeated the same joke barely changed or dragged out a routine too long but picked up well on the reaction of the audience. In fact, despite having very little traditional interaction with the audience, Nichol is clearly completely engaged with his, reacting to every murmur and ultimately crafting the climax around their enjoyment. Never have I felt so much like a comedian cared that I laughed, not for his benefit, but my own. It’s an odd sensation in a show built around his personal rants.
Despite the problems, for the first forty minutes the show races along as an acceptable but not exceptional stand-up set. Then the final ten minutes come. To give them away would rob them of their brilliance. Like the last LotR film there seem to be several endings, each building on the last. Each one set the audience guffawing anew. It’s genius. It’s loving. It’s worth every word tripped over, every dropped punchline, every penny of the ticket price and more.