Edward James

Review: Dara O’Briain, Crowd Tickler, Newcastle City Hall

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Long-standing host of Mock the Week, Stargazing Live, and School of Hard Sums, County Wicklow’s Dara O’Briain has built himself a loyal following of like-minded fans.

This year’s Crowd Tickler show is a mammoth tour of the UK, including three dates at Newcastle City Hall.

As he bounds onstage waving nonchalantly to the audience, his effortless style belies years of hard work in clubs, festivals and theatres around the country.

His introduction takes the style of a seasoned compere, laying down the ground rules for the show and letting everybody know that it is acceptable to fall asleep in his show – presumably something he has experienced in the past.

He warms up the packed-out 1800 seat venue with routines on touring, his past experiences of the North East and the various characters to be found on the road.

O’Briain quickly moves onto the audience, involving the front row with his inimitable charm and pre-prepared routines on some of their chosen careers.

He throws out some references to gauge the audience reaction and it’s clear that an O’Briain crowd is a very comedy-savvy audience. There are as well, of course, plenty of scientific and mathematical references, as well as some more popular sci-fi quotes.

Almost as if proving his skill as an improviser, it is 20 minutes before the first recognisable “joke” of the evening, leading into the meat of the Crowd Tickler show.

O’Briain is well positioned, with his regular TV appearances and recent moves into presenting, to talk about celebrity culture and fuse personal anecdotes, without seeming to name-drop.

He talks about the endless TV dramas and the endless pressure for everyone to watch them, while complaining that they are formulaic. Then he uses audience suggestions to build a cliche TV detective drama, although much of the comedy comes from the terrible suggestions.

Crowd Tickler continues in a similar vein, and O’Briain skilfully mixes anecdotes, physical comedy, and observational tropes to create a seamlessly entertaining first half.

The second half of the show is somewhat more structured, focussing on O’Briain’s newfound interest in psychology and the development of the mind. His observations ridiculing the minds of children are equally nostalgic and mocking.

His attention then turns to wastage and, typically, pseudoscience, medicine, and moral outrage around vaccination.

He has a glorious routine around anthropomorphism and our tendency to empathise with machines, beautifully exemplified with a skit about the two machines used to dig the channel tunnel from the English and French sides.

The stage allows Dara to show his full emotional range, and as he gets worked up there are flashes of Dylan Moran in his style, that never seem to appear in his TV work.

Using this skill to bring the second half to a crescendo – and bringing the audience’s laughter with it – Dara exits the stage for mere seconds before returning with a prepped encore, breaking the 4th wall to tell us that he has prepared more material from the routines he couldn’t find a place for in the main show.

The encore is packed with callbacks, further personal revelations and a feel-good energy and, not before thanking each of his audience participants, O’Briain leaves a very happy audience behind.

It is not difficult to see how O’Briain’s sharp wit, natural charisma and clearly honed skill keeps ever-larger audiences returning to his shows year after year.

Date of live review: 17 April 2015