Last night I got to see Daniel Kitson. Kitson is rated, by those who ought to know about these things such as Stewart Lee, as one of the best stand-up comedians in the country, though he’s not exactly a household name given his refusal to appear on television or indeed in any format that he doesn’t have complete creative control over. He does however appear to have a dedicated following judging by how quickly the tickets for this show at The Junction sold out – I heard about it purely by chance and was lucky enough to secure my place early, one of the few times I’ve paid to see a headline act I’ve literally never seen or heard anything by.
It turns out to be well worth it. Kitson appears on stage at 8pm, sits down at a table upon which rests a small keyboard-like device, and without any ceremony starts rattling through a hundred minute set that’s as densely packed with humour and pathos and arresting images and delightful connections and well, language, as anything I can ever remember seeing. It actually takes a while to adjust to the sheer pace of his delivery and his use of his electronic box of tricks to provide a simple musical backing track is also initially distracting, though in time you find yourself settled in nicely to the torrent of stuff that’s coming at you. There’s probably about two to three times as much material here as you’d get in the average comedy show filling this sort of time slot (and it’s particularly interesting to compare Kitson’s approach to the aforementioned S. Lee, who’s been known to get quarter of an hour or so out of the slow repetition and gradual embellishment of one simple phrase).
But what, you may ask, is this man’s stuff about? Actually…in basic terms, nothing that unusual really. Kitson is far from the first comic to mine his own life for instances of guilt or embarrassment or lust or peculiar obsession that he can then exaggerate or creatively embroider to humorous effect, though the incidents that he chooses to present are generally so particular that they ring true in a way that most stand-ups’ don’t. Where he really makes his mark though is in his detached, forensic and penetrating analyses of his and other human beings’ behaviour and in some of the insights he comes up with regarding the way memory works or the way people condition themselves or the tiny largely unobserved moments that betray oceans of insecurity just below the surface – this stuff’s in danger of being describable as profound. Thankfully he’s canny enough to temper any potential pretentiousness with a healthy side order of knob jokes, mock arrogance and comfortable Eddie Izzard style stuff about biscuits and fruit. It’s really impressive, and I’d love to have been able to hold onto more specifics but as Kitson himself says he goes so quickly there’s not much point trying to reconstruct any actual quotes from the show after the event.
Kitson may be fast but he’s never muddled and this show has a real structure, most obviously evident through his periodic replaying of a recording of a reported incident in a hotel room that seems more seedy the more you hear of it, and the conclusion of the set (which is otherwise as abrupt as its start) feels like an emotional pay-off as he manages to tie together his main themes satisfactorily but with no hint of sentimentality. This is only the latest in a long line of shows that he’s been performing over the last fifteen years or so and so far as I know none of them have been made available commercially so if you want to see him you’ll have to…um…go see him. But remember to get in there quickly if you hear he’s coming to town.