Plays, and other kinds of performance, may have many functions, but stand-up comedy has only one. Essentially, your job is to be funny, and if you’re not then you can be said to have failed. It’s a tough job. But happily for us, Simon Munnery knows what he is doing in his show The Wreath, currently on tour. The show has plenty to offer, whether you like literal sight-gags (the opening dumb-show exposition of Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door, including home-made props, is exemplary), whimsical Alice in Wonderland folk philosophy, or slightly surreal one-liners. It’s an eclectic mix of tones and styles, and it makes no attempt to be a seamless comedy narrative.
An eclectic mix of tones and styles.
Without being polemical or political, Munnery casts his quirky eye over one of his old jokes: 'I went to a funeral the other day. Caught the wreath…' and thus draws us into a parallel universe in which he tackles the thorny problem of graphic representation of the joke, and the policing of ownership of jokes in general. Extraordinarily, a large portion of the show revolves around the super-mundane – Munnery’s experience working as a cleaner in an egg factory. In the hands of lesser talents this could easily turn in to a massive, boring omelette. But Munnery taps into the world of low paid menial work without ever descending into pure observational humour, and somehow manages to invest it with his wonky philosophy. For Munnery, cleaning is 'infinite and endless' and thus elevates cleaners to the status of God.
Munnery reads some of his material aloud – from letters, text conversations, job references, and even a joke book – and while these portions elicit good laughs from the crowd, some bits work better than others. As Munnery concedes, 'it’s not all jokes. Some of it is just really bad news.' Perhaps the most successful piece is a hilariously logical deconstruction of the phrase 'leave the room in a better state than you entered it', apparently coined by his mother. And for my money, Munnery certainly succeeds in doing that.