On Friday evening Paul Foot completed his UK tour of Kenny Larch is Dead with a grand finale at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre. Velveteer Mog was there to follow the mental meanderings of the mullet-haired comedy man:
I love Paul Foot. I’ve had a soft spot for him since I caught him by chance a few years ago doing an improvised warm-up spot about John Terry at Old Rope. It was inspired and brilliant. Since then, like many fans I’ve been charmed/physically attacked by his alter-ego Penny, giggled at his distrurbances and had my mind moved to reverie with glorious stories about shire horses, moist cakes and homophobia. Fresh, clever and unique, he is by rights a national comedy treasure. So yes, I love Paul Foot. However, while it pains me to say it, Friday night’s show didn’t quite do it for me.
Foot has always walked a perfectly-strung tightrope between the random and the rational, but with this show the balance may have tipped too far one way. As always, his stories contained little in the way of a narrative arc; but in the past what’s marked out Foot’s humour is that no matter how upside-down it gets, there’s a sharp (if slightly warped) internal grammar underpinning it. The fuzzy logic at work in Foot’s world may be different to mine or yours, but it’s most definitely there, and it’s clever and lovely in equal measures. It’s that clever loveliness that stops his performances being word salad, and it’s what raises what he does several notches above the norm. Perhaps Kenny Larch is Dead would benefit from more of the clever loveliness.
With this show there are some wonderfully warped and poetic musings to lose yourself in, but they’re completely untethered; imagine EE Cummings in stand-up form. From stories about cheddar collections to an angel with a broken wing I kept waiting for the payoff (not the traditional kind of comedy payoff – obviously – but those glorious moments when Foot brings your mind up short by showing you a different, funnier, way to think), but they didn’t come.
This show also marked a darker, more sexually aggressive side to Foot’s onstage persona – and a more exaggerated physical performance. For me, much of Foot’s charm comes from his playful, slightly simple, likeable stage presence. The ‘spaniel ears’ hair, the Farah slacks, the briefcase: it means he can get away with saying things that would sound plain nasty if they came out of someone else’s mouth. However, this version of Paul Foot is more extreme with more of an edge, and as such, the shocking moments tended to work on a singular level only: they shocked.
That said, the show had some brilliant moments: The way Foot handled a controversial story about a teenage failed gymnast was a masterclass in how to play an audience. The section about Jenny-on-the-front-row’s boyfriend came with the psychological gameplay one expects from Foot; likewise the supermarket anagrams were a highlight. And the cleverness with which he confused an over-enthusiastic heckler was Foot at his best, as he managed to put them down without their knowledge, and manoeuvre his way back into a joke without even missing a beat.
The Foot connoisseurs were out in force, whooping and cheering his every word. I suspect that if any of them read this review they’ll wonder if they were at the same gig as me. But an intensely loyal fanbase can be both a blessing and a curse for a comedian: when your audience laugh at everything you do, how can you tell what’s really funny? When they’ve seen your routines several times over, how do you avoid everything becoming an in-joke?
Perhaps that was what was happening here: it was a performance that was perfectly in-tune with the mindset and expectations of the Foot fanatics, who clearly loved it. But for those of us who dip in and out of Foot’s comedy it wasn’t quite up there where I know he can be.
It’ll be interesting to see where he takes his unique brand of humour in 2013.