Stephen Carlin: TV Comeback Special

When Stephen Carlin was named by Stewart Lee as one of the ‘Ten Best Comedians in The World Ever’ in 2008, he wasn’t exactly a household name. Now, however — well, okay, he’s still hasn’t found the fame he deserves; his brand of deadpan wit is well overdue widespread recognition. Unfortunately, TV Comeback Special won’t be the show to propel Carlin into the spotlight.

Just enough flashes of bleak brilliance, and inspired turns of phrase, to make the more pedestrian moments forgivable.

Carlin touches on some of the usual topics for comics in 2016, but most of his set is emphatically idiosyncratic. It’s true that, when described in the broadest terms, the topics are fairly familiar — love, relationships, drugs, driving, suicide, sex — but Carlin’s routine reliably steers away from cliché: he delivers idiosyncratic, dependably morose perspectives on these well-worn topics, couched in his distinctive, desert-dry delivery.

Carlin takes a scathing eye to the world and himself. He mines a vein of self-deprecation for some excellent bits on a jury duty equivalent for dating, his own middle-class politeness and the insult of being trusted to look after a stranger's bag. Carlin’s sometimes brutally honest insights are well-served by his talent for finding weirdly illuminating out-of-left-field similes. There are extremely funny comparisons made between love and multipack toilet rolls, between suicide and the emergency services.

The show, however, could do with some tightening. The pacing was less than ideal, with some lengthy lulls which didn’t build to much of anything, capped off not with raucous laughter, but with a smattering titters — too many stretches of silence that led to whimpers, not bangs. An excellent moment of improvised crowd work, too, slowly foundered as Carlin himself was derailed by the hilarity of the moment — a smoother, momentum-maintaining response was sorely needed.

TV Comeback Special — in spite of these few blips — contains just enough flashes of bleak brilliance, and inspired turns of phrase, to make the more pedestrian moments forgivable.

Reviews by Jamie P Robson

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The Blurb

Bet you didn’t even know he’d been away? Bet you didn’t know he even existed? Well now he’s back! After the debacle of his last TV appearance, rehab, and a failed marriage, Stephen Carlin returns. Not recorded but before a live audience. ***** (Herald). No fat Elvis Presley’s were harmed in the making of this show.