Jamie Stubbs

Review: Paul Merton: Out Of My Head – Tyne Theatre, Newcastle.

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Paul Merton | Giggle Beats

Paul Merton

Fans of Paul Merton will know that he’s been touring the country for years now with his Improv Chums, performing shows largely removed from his stand up roots.

It’s no surprise, as improv is a form of comedy that suits Merton’s wit perfectly: as demonstrated over the last 20+ years on BBC’s Have I Got News For You, a simple aside from Merton – injecting a bit of silliness into intellectual chatter – can be the highlight of any show.

That being said, Out Of My Head, Merton’s new tour for 2012, was billed as his first return to stand up in over 10 years – and I just can’t help but feel a little false advertising has gone on here.

Stand up fans expecting a straight one man show, microphone and black backdrop, would surely have been mightily confused, and potentially disappointed, at the use of props and UV lights. And even some of the weirder anecdotes could be seen as suspect under the tour’s billing.

But you can’t fault that it works. Merton, accompanied by wife Suki Webster, Richard Vranch and Lee Simpson, provides a strangely watchable, weird and wonderful 120 minutes of daft sketches, smart improv and mind-boggling asides; not to mention the odd moments where the others leave the stage, which I suppose can be loosely defined as the ‘return to stand up’ bit.

There’s also a real serious tone underlying the silliness here. Much of the material in Out Of My Head covers Merton’s admittance to a psychiatric hospital, just as he broke into television with Whose Line Is It Anyway? Yet Merton handles the weight of the topic brilliantly, and there are some real belly laughs to be found in such a bleak area of his life.

Although given the hypnotic use of bizarre props like puppet rabbits, UV costumes and ventriloquist dolls – as well as some of the more far-out sketches like a particular routine involving Prince Charles – I’m not sure it’s Paul Merton’s sanity we should be worrying about, having just witnessed such a eccentric, silly, clearly crazy hodgepodge of the inner workings of Merton’s brain.

If, like me, you’ve watched Merton week in, week out on the BBC for the last few decades, you may be surprised at just how far removed the stand up is from the sheer wit and surreal gags he is best known for.

Out Of My Head is eye opening to the talent that Paul Merton possesses.