Dylan Moran, The Lowry, Manchester, March 15 2015
Observational comedy has taken a bit of a battering in recent years. Ever since Michael McIntyre appeared on the scene, like a Peter Kay tribute act with jokes that mostly revolve around how babies can’t yet speak, some of the big names in stand-up have been turning their noses up, shaking their heads, and telling us that comedy is more than just looking at people and telling us what they do. But is it really? Let’s be honest, people are funny. And if you’re somebody who’s lucky enough to be funny for a living, are there many better ways of doing that than by shining a light on the foibles of the people around you?
In his Off the Hook tour, that’s exactly what Dylan Moran does. And there aren’t many people funnier than him. But by beginning by thanking us for pulling ourselves away from our iPads for the evening, and ending with perhaps the best Fifty Shades of Grey parody so far, he never ventures far from the territory of telling us what we do as a society and pointing out why we’re funny for doing those things.
So does Dylan Moran, the anarchic star of Black Books and well-renowned comedy genius, have to now be viewed as another replica of Michael McIntyre, the supposed scourge of the stand-up scene?
To put it simply, no. There is a huge difference. While we are all understandably a little bit bored of the identikit comedians that light up (or dumb down) Live at the Apollo and Mock the Week, Moran is not, and never will be, one of those. His comedy may make us focus in on ourselves, but the way he does that is as unique as ever.
He begins with jokes about Ed Miliband, David Cameron, and Nigel Farage. But rather than telling us that one looks like Wallace, one’s posh, and one’s a racist drinker, he compares Miliband to an escaped patient prancing in a field, does a perfect impression of Cameron that damns both him and his voters, and asks some serious, but seriously funny, questions about how it has even been possible for Farage to get his ugly mug on a TV screen.
He later skips to a skit about the British love of terrible television and reality shows. Well-worn territory, you might say. But if you find a funnier, angrier, or more adroit rant about The Great British Bake Off in the near future, then let me know. I’d like to hear it. And there probably aren’t many more unique ways of questioning the cultural worth of Strictly Come Dancing than by comparing it to shaking some food around on a tray and staring at it.
This wasn’t just a ninety minute diatribe about bad voting decisions and worse TV, though. What took Off the Hook up another level was the fact that Moran’s observations weren’t only about us, they were also about him. After apologising for betraying his fans when he gave up smoking, he told us how the last couple of years have seen him in a new battle. Against his growing gut. He talked about how trips to supermarket have now replaced smoking in the garden, fags replaced by food, and how he know has to use the voices in his head to stop him from chowing down on the chocolate covered fuckbomb.
He talked about his kids and his wife, two other staples of the observational comedy genre. But he did it with wit and originality and with jokes that actually made you feel a little bit sorry for those in his immediate vicinity, while also kind of wishing he was your dad.
And in the most intimate moment of the whole show, he touched upon his depression. A curse for many comedians, he hinted that he faces some real lows at times, only to make us laugh when discussing how his depression doesn’t engender sympathy for others. Instead, it has him nodding his head when anyone talks about their own depression, all the time telling himself they don’t know what they’re talking about.
So yes, whether looking at himself or others, Moran fills his latest show with observational comedy. But he also proves that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can simply repeat your observations in a funny voice and march around the stage, or you can make those observations reach out in to new and hilarious territory. Moran does the latter. And as the waist expands and the trips to supermarket become more frequent, the comedy seems only to benefit.