Gary McNair, Citizens Theatre, 20 – 21 May 2016
Gary McNair’s play ‘Donald Robertson is not a stand-up comedian’ blurs the boundary between theatre and stand-up comedy, fusing the practice of story telling with stand-up.
Prior to the writing of his piece, McNair studied the stand-up comedy world, saying; “I knew that I couldn’t write this show unless I knew what it was like to go up there armed with nothing but a microphone and my pre-prepared jokes.” His resulting work is a self- reflexive deconstruction of the craft, or rather, a piss-taking polemic against stand-up comedy.
The stage is intimately set up in the style of a traditional comedy club, with the spotlight set upon McNair gesticulating and cracking his one-liners in front of the stereotypical brick wall. The narrative, which is filtered through McNair’s soliloquised coming-of-age story and punctuated by terrible Dad-jokes and cheesy one-liners, tracks McNair doling out self- assured, yet misguided advice to the young, nerdy Donald Robertson. McNair’s tutelage seeks to embolden the young misfit, and mould him into a stand-up comedian in his own image.
A critical exposition of the craft unfolds, with McNair launching into a self-reflexive explanation of the typical techniques used by the stand-up comedian. He outlines the mechanisms underpinning ‘first person fallibility’, ‘the rule of three’ and faux improvisation in ‘crowd work’. McNair’s post-modern approach gets old very quickly, and comes off as contrived rather than funny (or clever, which I assume is what he was mainly going for).
At some points, McNair’s play provides an accurate satire of the darker side of the comedy world: after donning a Welsh accent, McNair expounds why he is not, in fact, racist. This is an obvious allusion to the tired and often offensive practice of ‘taking the micky’, where a comedian may spend ten minutes letting rip upon the French, because it’s not racism if the victim is the same colour as you.
Whilst McNair is devilishly clever with his critical deconstruction of the act of comedy, he fails to entertain, or at least, he failed to entertain me. Through the play, McNair mediates the view that comedy “is just a desperate attempt to get people to like us,” both a vicious and, perhaps, fallacious hypothesis. McNair has written that he “take[s] real pleasure in watching bad stand-ups die on stage”; the play is a haranguing extension of this twisted pleasure. If you’re expecting laughs, hold your breath, McNair’s a wee meanie.
Image: The Guardian