Most familiar for playing the title role in ‘I Daniel Blake’, Dave Johns is less well known for being a stand-up comedian, in spite of doing it for much of the last 40 years. He ably demonstrated why it shouldn’t have taken a Ken Loach film to bring him to stardom.
Opening with a gag to explain why his bearded, dishevelled look is due to a film role (he didn’t get it and has been drinking for the last month), he instantly shows he is not someone who takes himself, or his belated rise to fame, too seriously. This is confirmed with a story about his experience filming a sex scene with Alison Steadman.
If there is a theme in the show, it is disappointment, but it’s not just disappointment in himself. Johns can take legendary performers and pick out small details that blow away the myths and make them ordinary human beings. Nowhere is this more expertly demonstrated than when he talks about seeing David Bowie at the height of his Ziggy Stardust phase. The eulogies at the start give no clue as to what the denouement will be.
There is a Reeves and Mortimer surrealness to many of the longer pieces in the set. You could imagine his claims about the reason for Elvis Presley’s Vegas jumpsuits being acted out by Vic and Bob, while his story of an orphan being found in a burger in Burger King takes elements of recognisable stories and twists them into a fantasy that holds his audience’s attention as if every word of it were true.
While the show felt at times like a work in progress set, and his joke about Anton du Beke appears destined never to be heard again with only this review serving as testimony that it ever existed, A Comic’s Tale is still more rewarding than many highly polished sets.
Career defining as it was, Johns is so much more than the actor in I Daniel Blake, and it’s worth discovering the role he’s been playing so well for so long.
Gilded Balloon Teviot Hall, to 28 August