Watching popular comedy is a curiosity these days. Be it the humour of family-friendly Michael McIntyre, or ostentatiously obnoxious Jimmy Carr, you’re never quite sure if you are getting the real thing. Want to remove any doubts and watch a stand-up show where you get the real thing? Watch Daniel Kitson.
Kitson’s performance at the Warwick Arts Centre was as good as any stand-up show I’ve seen. I have seen McIntyre, Jack Dee, Phill Jupitus, Reginald D Hunter and Marcus Brigstocke – names enshrined in the ‘household favourite’ album – performers who are sharp and deserve their reputation. The 35-year-old Roehampton University graduate with straggly beard and slight stutter, Daniel Kitson, blew the established elite out of the water.
It’s only fair to say that Kitson could be famous if he wanted to. Chris Addison reckons he is “the finest comedian of his generation” and Stewart Lee believes his stand-up to be “about as good as it gets”. Instead, barring an appearance on Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, Kitson has been content to grace the Edinburgh Fringe scene, whilst presenting a music-based show called The Listening Club each week on London community arts radio station Resonance FM. This stems from a distrust of appearing on television, believing that the commercial arena compromises his original ideas.
To watch Kitson is laughter, amazement and empathy all at once. Kitson perched self-consciously at the front of the stage, talking over a hum of music; he delved deep into the realms of his isolation, hilariously recounting his decision to trade marriage and children for the fascination of a pool table. He revelled in his otherness, a life of blissful isolation and extrication from the real world, one without routine. But it was clear from his frantic intertwining of thoughts and incredible vocabulary – Daniel Kitson is a born genius.
Two hours in, without the slightest hint of an interval break, Kitson had the audience in stitches. Covering a diverse range of topics from our obsession with Googling ourselves to how we meet each other – “Grandpa could have been shitting in a field, whilst Grandma was committing a hate crime”. There was a sense of touching openness, of complete transparency with Kitson. To witness a renowned recluse taking the audience on instinctive tangents was to see the inner workings of an extraordinarily complex mind.
In many ways, it is tragic that comedy fans do not know Kitson better: he has a magnificent, perhaps unprecedented ability to transfix the audience in pure awe and admiration. But perhaps this is his greatest allure. Whilst more media-friendly comedians proliferate their talent through DVDs and panel show appearances, Kitson remains a champion of the underground scene. He intertwines tours with ‘Work In Progress’ performances, where his experimental style comes to the fore. He shows no mercy in eschewing the bandwagon of popular comedy – few others have had the temerity to brand Peter Kay a “comedically lazy, over-rated, obnoxious bully of a man”. In short, his comedy remains pure to himself, untarnished by commercial pressure.
Next time you settle down to watch a panel show or a DVD of one of your favourite comedians, you will laugh, you will smile, and you will appreciate the mechanics behind the polished result. But if you want comedy stripped to its bare bones – an unfashionable man sitting on a chair, spit-balling irrepressible humour with every abstract thought for two hours straight –see Daniel Kitson. Do it. It’ll blow your mind.
Details of Daniel Kitson’s tour can be found here.