Review: Elis James: Speaking As A Mother – Pleasance Baby Grand, Edinburgh.
You can learn a lot about a show from its opening music. In the case of Elis James, the thing you learn is not to judge a show by its opening music.
His bombastic Welcome To The Jungle intro is entirely at odds with the lo-fi, self-deprecating style here. He’s an affable, lilting Welsh storyteller in a jumper that’s clearly way too warm for the stuffy venue. James is a cross between Rhys Ifans and your favourite teacher at school – probably the one who let you have lessons outside.
Speaking As A Mother is the sort of show you slip into effortlessly, his anecdotes pulling you in like some kind of comedy magnet. He chats about the weather, about the Olympics and, slightly more daringly, his feud with every Rangers fan that currently exists, as well as the football club itself.
It’s not clear if any Rangers fans are in tonight, but even if they were it feels like it’s impossible to get annoyed with Elis: he’s simply far too likeable. You can’t hold a grudge against someone who spends 5 minutes of his set trying to prop a side door open (and somehow managing to hit himself in the crotch repeatedly with his microphone while he does).
A lot of James’ stories are about how vaguely crap he is at ‘grown up’ activities. It might be hard to imagine how an anecdote about taking a tea towel to Tesco instead of a Bag For Life could reduce a room full people to tears of laughter, but his wide-eyed expression, ludicrous brain-addled skip down an imaginary road and final matador-like flourish at the checkout turns a minor facepalm moment into comedy gold.
He’s a physically active comedian, cavorting around the stage and using it to full effect. He’s also clearly very clever indeed, and it shows. His jokes are long, involved and probably won’t make it into the ‘top ten one liners’ compilation lists (something even he makes a joke about), but his actions, description, build up and delivery is what lifts them far about that kind of quick gag.
If you want pithy one liners, you can always sign up for Twitter (or go and see Jimmy Carr). However, for slow burning, perfectly told stories about wrapping sanitary towels in tin foil and – most memorably- hastily-rewritten-to-avoid-copyright-infringement, Welsh school play versions of Grease, then you really can’t do much better than Elis James.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he’s completely cornered the ‘unsettlingly hilarious stories about parents dipping their genitals in bowls of Weetabix’ market. I’d like to see Jimmy Carr tackle that issue (no pun intended).
Date of live review: Monday 20th August 2012