At the end of March, comedian and storyteller Daniel Kitson is taking his new stand-up show, Where Once Was Wonder, on tour around Australia. As he points out when he walks out in front of the sold out crowd of the Tobacco Factory’s Brewery Theatre, “That’s three weeks away – eek!”.
Tonight’s show is the second date on a small “work-in-progress” tour around the UK to pull everything together before he heads off to Australia and then comes back in time for Edinburgh in August.
Where Once Was Wonder comprises all new material and will eventually be three stories about “the impossible” but for tonight, he tells us, we’ll just hear the first story, most of the second story and a bit about the third story so what follows is only a small commentary on a partial, unfinished show.
It appears that all reviews of Daniel Kitson are required to address the fact that most people have never heard of him and so shall I – most people have never heard of Daniel Kitson. Nevertheless, this was a “hot ticket”. It was only publicised through Kitson’s own mailing list and yet tickets sold out for both Bristol nights in under an hour.
Kitson’s lack of recognition is largely due to the fact that he doesn’t do TV. This may be because, in his words, “I’ve spent most of my life in the area somewhere between not attractive and actively ugly” or it may be that he has a fairly significant stutter. He does also appear to have a pathological aversion to being “mainstream” or even appearing to be “mainstream”. However, it seems more likely that he is concerned about having to make compromises – as he says about why he hasn’t released a DVD, “it’s a combination of perfectionism and laziness that when viewed from a distance looks like a principle”.
Interestingly his avoidance of the mainstream has recently resulted in an improvement to his appearance – his concern that his previous look (beard, thick-rimmed glasses and cardigans) had been appropriated by hipsters and become “a look” lead him to shave both his beard and his head so as not to be identified with them. Indeed, this is one of the ideas he revisits through this new material – when things become “things”. For example, when people try to make something out of the fact that, unlike many comedians, he’s not on Twitter whereas, he explains, it’s not that he’s “not on Twitter”, he’s just not on Twitter!
Kitson’s humour is at times intellectual and wordy and at other times joyfully childish and the factors that mean he avoids TV actually tend to work in his favour in the live setting, his humble and chatty demeanour and skilful story-telling keeping the audience on board tonight despite his jumping between different parts of the show to try to shape it into a coherent whole.
Other recurring themes in the three largely autobiographical stories of Where Once Was Wonder are likely to be (if the material stays in the final show) the feeling of inevitability, contradictory opinions about love, defiance and the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of existence. There are plenty of laughs to be found there but Kitson is equally adept at finding the comedy in silliness and little things including the best joke about a bird table you’ll ever hear, a series of puns about the Nile, the suggestion that “rom-com” stands for “romedy comedy”, and one joke, delivered with relish, that was so deliciously bad as to prompt a “waaah waaah waaah” from one audience member!
There were so many more great laughs, the biggest of the night coming from his story of a confrontation with a snooty New York bookshop worker in which he compared himself to Nicolas Cage’s character in Con Air, but even between punchlines Kitson is engaging and entertaining. See him live, if you can, but as I said in the preview, you’ll need to be quick to get in before his fans.