Balding, bespectacled, bearded and possessed of an almighty stutter, Daniel Kitson may not look or sound like the sharpest comic mind of his generation, especially in these image-conscious times.
Yet over the last few years, that’s exactly what he’s become. Shunning television appearances (apart from a now disowned role in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights), Kitson has increasingly worked on his stand-up show to the point where, although not a household name, he’s capable of selling out any venue he appears at.
This appearance at the beautiful old-time music hall theatre of Leeds’ City Varieties was a ‘work-in-progress’ of his upcoming show, It’s The Fireworks Talking. These warm-up shows have become legendary, often running wildly over time and featuring Kitson furiously scribbling in his ever-present notebook when a new idea hits him.
Having said that, this particular show appears to be more or less fully formed as it is. The notebook was still nestling under Kitson’s arm as he took to the stage, but was hardly used at all. The first half of the show seemed mostly improvised, with Kitson’s ramshackle charm taking centre stage as he told a long story about his hypochrondria, while taking the usual wild tangents.
The first half built up slowly, but by the time Kitson hit his stride, talking about AIDS tests and how a “stance demonstrates levels of pomposity”, he had the audience in the palm of his hand.Yet this opening 45 minutes was just a relatively short warm-up for the main show – “structured as fuck, the second half” as Kitson said.
The second half was, in effect, Kitson explaining how he comes up with the titles for his shows (“those other comedians who just use their names are LOSERS”), but there was so much more to it than that. Beautifully written (Kitson is obviously a comedian who loves language) and performed with a winning degree of vulnerability, it was a show to sit back and marvel in.
From almost lyrical bursts about the joy of walking in freshly laid snow or feelings of child-like awe and amusement when watching fireworks explode, not a word was wasted. There was also rightous anger and indignation (accompanied with especially inventive swearing) when Kitson talked about one of his particular bugbears, bad parenting.
Daniel Kitson is not your average comedian, in fact anybody who came expecting some Peter Kay style observations following Kitson’s Phoenix Night’s appearance was likely to come away rather bemused. Perhaps the closest parallel (although no doubt it’s one Kitson would shudder with horror at) is that of Russell Brand – both men are eloquent, verbose and willing to explore areas that most other comedians wouldn’t even tread.
It’s easy to see why Kitson is so adored by the comedy cognoscenti – he has the unerring knack of making you hysterical with laughter while also marvelling that somebody else shares your views on the world. As any television appearances would no doubt dilute his unique act, long may he remain a maverick and one of the most original and rewarding acts on the UK comedy circuit.