Dara O’Briain, Crowd Tickler, The Lowry, May 11-13 2015

If you’re going to book a night to catch a Dara O’Briain stand-up show make it a Monday! As he kept asking us – what are yous doing out on a Monday night?! Yous can snooze if you like… – it became increasingly clear snoozing was impossible. The laughter won-out against the back-to-work yawns, despite our feeling warm and fuzzy in the ‘purple womb’ of the Lyric theatre, in the presence of Dara whose familiar cheeky face lent an air of intimacy to the Lowry’s vast auditorium.

O’Briain was full of energy for his almost three-hour set, though the first half wasn’t quite as good as the second, with some of us having to adjust our ears to the fast-talking Irishman, who began with a series of shorter jokes which I found less enjoyable than the longer narratives of the second half. His interviewing of members of the audience became almost formulaic too – What’s yer name and where’d’ya come from? – after all, it was a Monday for him too! But after realising he’d missed a comedic treat with the man from Ramsbottom – inexplicably favouring a detailed explanation of what it means to be a ‘costs lawyer’ rather than riffing on the ‘massive hairy sheeps arsehole’ that was ‘clearly where the humour is’ – he warmed up to boiling point, using material gleaned from the sacrificial lambs in the front row delightfully throughout the show.

He’s been on the road since October 2014, having been off for three years – not succumbing to Strictly Come Dancing – never! – but, among other things, misguidedly telling the nation to use a colander to see the eclipse – sorry about that folks! he said, as I recalled holding up a colander to the cloudy sky and scratching my head. Not much has changed across Britain since he last toured, he told us, except for its sudden obsession with pulled pork – I thought was just a Manchester thing! – and the pressure on comedians to compete with quality TV drama, prising our fingers apart as they grip onto the latest TV box-set – Did you see Breaking Bad? It’s Amazing. It’s a-mazing. We stayed up all night. It’s amazing. Have you seen Breaking Bad?! – I started to wonder if it was a euphemism for taking meth!

He had great physical comedy onstage, as well as proving himself to be a suave dancer – I move well, he told us, up to the ‘gay line’ – making a reference to swinging his arms over his head and shaking his hips drunkenly during Jules Holland’s 2008 Hootenanny. He also hit the spot with his gleeful impersonations and sound-effects. We made a list before the show of what we expected him to talk about and were glad to find greater variation than the usual stand-up fare – though the wife and kids and middling-age were mentioned to ever deepening belly laughs – and when we returned to our seats after the interval I was happy to see a phrenology bust onstage – having hoped he would share his passion for science during the show!

We learnt about Phineas Gage – the nineteenth-century man whose brain injury led to the ever-mind-boggling study of neuroscience that continues to excite today, though as Dara pointed out, of course he was more hostile after having an iron rod rammed through his brain! We were also informed, rather ominously, that we’re running out of helium. Helium is used in MRI scans and, returning to the 16-year-old boy he had earlier implored to stop posting photos of his penis online, told him that in 60 years – when you might well need an MRI – the doctors will say – sorry, we used it all up on floaty balloons and making our voices squeaky to impress girls, having earlier making us all laugh about the ever-increasing buzz-kills we must get used to as adults – do you like those trainers? Know who made them? Did you enjoy that burger?, etc. He also attacked the misjudged use of antibiotics and the unfounded MMR vaccine controversy, serious issues of our day, though he managed to make us laugh all the way. Finally he spoke of the ongoing debate about the ‘gendered brain’ – are differences between the sexes socially constructed or chemical? – homing in on the male brain after ejaculation – for five minutes it’s like someone switched on the Matrix! – and apologising for certain male fetishes – not too high: waders not sexy! – not too low: pop-socks not sexy! – just above the knee, that’s where the sexy lives…

The highlight was towards the end of the show when he described his near-death experience in Africa, where he was raising money for Red Nose Day when he was flung off a raft and left clinging to a tree for dear life, only to be interrupted by a rather tipsy member of the audience who had politely raised his hand to make reference to a joke Dara made in the first half, leading Dara to imagine the man in bed later – delayed laughter at another joke he’d only just got. This would only happen on a Monday!, he told us, as he skipped off the stage, his hand around the red curtain still in view – ready to jump out at us lest we make a hasty exit, choosing our beds and a box-set over a standing ovation – we didn’t.
Emma Rhys

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