Three-quarters into this heavily autobiographical show, Canadian comic, singer-songwriter and actor Phil Nichol launches into a story about breaking his penis during a one-night stand. Whether he pulls this one out (all puns and innuendo entirely intended) to wake up the man who has fallen asleep in the front row, I can’t be sure. But this is the one tale that sticks clearly in the mind in what is otherwise a rather unremarkable show.
Nichol is yet another comic who wants to tell us how we should be living our lives; perhaps it’s this afternoon slot that makes them feel they have to get serious.
‘The Guardian’ has observed a new trend for ‘artier acts’, such as the likes of Stewart Lee and Bridget Christie, to appear in the morning or afternoon – ‘the parts of the day more associated with theatre’. It goes on to suggest that the afternoon slots are favoured by ‘old troopers’ so that they can be ‘done and dusted by afternoon tea’. One feels that Nichol doesn’t really know whether this show is a piece of theatre – he sits on stage, behind a desk, occasionally getting up to dance around to Madness-style snippets of music – or a straight, stand-up comedy gig. Maybe he does want that afternoon cuppa, or maybe he feels that after so many Fringe appearances, he could do without the kind of well-lubricated crowd you get at The Stand on a Saturday night. The result is a kind of distancing between comic and audience: there is no real audience interaction - the confessional tone and material, the post-lunch slump and the physical barrier formed by the desk, making any connection nigh-on impossible.
Nichol has clearly not had the easiest of lives. He starts off by telling us about his upbringing in Cumbernauld to devout, born-again Christians; then a little about his clinical stutter and lisp; the family’s emigration to Toronto, prompting a lovely impression of his loquacious Scottish mother; then we’re into adult territory. It’s here things take a turn for the worse as he meets his future wife: cue infidelity, suicidal and murderous leanings, drinking, drugs, porn, and a failed attempt at marital reconciliation. There is a nice story about unfinished business with a first love, and the account of going to Relate is genuinely amusing.
This show could easily be a piece for radio, since we don’t gain much from watching it as a piece of theatre. Nichol is a gifted story-teller, but his poetry - I’m not so sure. Nichol is yet another comic who wants to tell us how we should be living our lives; perhaps it’s this afternoon slot that makes them feel they have to get serious. He leaves us with a poem, firmly in the pseudo-inspirational-‘If’-schtick-and-therefore-incredibly-trite mould. I don’t go to comedy gigs for counselling, I go to be entertained, and I hope, to laugh. I’m afraid the laughs were just a little too few, and the material only vaguely interesting. While one senses that Nichol is getting a lot off his chest, I’m not sure pity is the appropriate overriding response to an hour of lunchtime comedy.