Tuesday 6 May 2014

Comedy review: Fame: Not The Musical

I don't often venture away from straightforward theatre to standup comedy, but I'd been told David Baddiel bringing his latest show to the Menier Chocolate Factory wasn't to be missed. It's his first standup show in 15 years, having become disillusioned by a corporate gig when a roomful of bankers weren't amused by him calling them all cunts (this was back in the days when that wasn't the nicest thing anyone ever called them.) As off-West End theatres go the Menier's a decent size, and Baddiel is playing a whole month there, but he used to play Wembley Stadium, and that's one of the main points about Fame: Not The Musical, which looks at what it's like to be quite famous but not as famous as you used to be; as well as the peculiar disconnect that allows people to talk about and interact with celebrities as if they're not real people.

Having what he describes as a generic Jewish face, the main symptom of Baddiel not being on TV as much as he used to seems to be mistaken identity: People know they recognise him, but think he's someone else, usually Ben Elton. An urban myth suggested that, because of the Fantasy Football connection, Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted Baddiel to write the book for The Beautiful Game, but ended up with Elton because he couldn't tell the difference between them. Years later Baddiel met Lloyd Webber and discovered not only that it was true, but that the composer still couldn't tell the difference, despite having written a musical with Elton.

Fame: Not The Musical is a self-deprecating, affable show, in contrast to the brash and laddish image the comedian has, which is another of the issues he deals with: How once a public perception has been formed, no matter how far from it a person's actions actually are, they'll always be perceived through that prism. He also looks into internet trolls (although contrary to what he suggests, they're not a phenomenon aimed solely at celebrities) and invites the audience to tweet him in the interval. The Menier seems to be a bit of a black hole for my phone's signal so I couldn't, but if he wants a story of fickle fame from much earlier in his career, I can point him to me and my family watching a Mary Whitehouse Experience sketch he was in, around the time they were becoming the biggest thing on TV. The sketch's main gag involved them repeating his own name several times, and at home we pretty much responded "Who's David Baddiel?"

This is a meandering show that's often very funny but isn't concerned with supplying a non-stop stream of gags, instead the laughs are balanced with some interesting observations on modern fame and the weird way people with differing degrees of celebrity interact. And it's good to know someone else remembers the catchphrase "that's you, that is," even if it is Baddiel himself.

Fame: Not The Musical by David Baddiel is booking until the 23rd of May at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Plenty of tickets still available, because he's not that famous any more.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes including interval.

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