The description "anecdotal comedian" brings to mind comfy pipe and slippers performers like Gervase Phinn. Elis James avoids this middle of the road categorisation with material that, although affectionate, has a hard dark edge and is even a bit surrealistic.
He also has a very physical style that is so energetic as to leave him breathless at one point. In his current show James recounts a number of first experiences from his early years including playing cricket and attending a pantomime.
James recalls how he was such a late starter that his friends had to club together to pay a girl give him his first kiss. But he is able to find romance in the fact that she accepted only the value of her taxi fare so, in effect, did the deed for expenses. Stuck for a suitable end to an anecdote he simply kills off one of the characters. The centrepiece of the evening is a wonderfully bonkers tale of how an off-season attempt at carol singing climaxed in an impassioned performance of "Last Christmas."
But as a performer - James seems oddly unsatisfied with his own act. He claims that his new material is weak and, being unable to afford to pay writers, has to perform last year’s show. This goes beyond self-deprecation; his digressions are remarkably strong considering their spontaneity (one off-the cuff routine comes from an audience member’s preferred snack) but their length and frequency suggests James might really feel his act is going stale.
Such an attitude is odd as much of the best material is clearly brand new. He recounts the horror of trying to get back from the previous night’s gig by the Stone Roses by public transport (this gets a cynical laugh from a Mancunian audience that knows better than to trust Metrolink). But this is balanced by a charming routine in which the comedian describes the pleasure of watching the group’s original fan base, now in middle age, trying to discuss mature topics like babysitting whilst under the influence of drugs for the first time in decades.
In its current form Do You Remember the First Time? is a curious mixture of the old and the new that, whilst clearly delighting the audience, seems unsatisfactory to its writer.
- Dave Cunningham