It’s not easy being Welsh, is it? Not according to Rob Brydon, who digs up his own Welsh roots mercilessly in Rob Brydon Live!, his latest stand-up show, which he’s brought to Shaftesbury Avenue for three weeks in between legs of an extensive UK tour. The poor relations of the United Kingdom, the Welsh, says Brydon, are a terminally timid and downcast bunch (“you couldn’t have a Welsh superhero”, for instance).
It’s not for me to say whether that’s a national stereotype that ought to stick or not (no hate emails from Cardiff please) – though none of the compatriots he singled out from the audience on the night I attended seemed to protest too loudly – but I can testify that, whatever the Welsh deficiencies may be, based on Brydon, lack of humour is not one of them. This is one funny man.
While this is no greatest hits compilation, followers of Brydon’s career will be pleased to see the comedian harking back to previous successful forms for the evening’s entertainment. He flexes his storytelling muscles à la Keith Barret in a recollection of his fourth child’s home birth. He reveals his mimicry skills with impressions of an eclectic range of celebrities, from Tom Jones to Gordon Brown, Steve Coogan, Johnny Mathis, Michael Caine, Hugh Grant and Al Pacino (in an hysterical reading of The Gruffalo). And he trawls proudly through some of the myriad adverts that have kept him in the money as a voiceover artist (it’s not often a night in a theatre includes encore demands for Fairy Liquid).
His most famous Welsh creation, Stacey’s hapless uncle Bryn from TV sitcom Gavin and Stacey, also gets a look in with a rendition of Bryn’s Comic Relief chart-topping version of “Islands in the Stream” (Brydon can add a good singing voice to his list of talents).
At several junctures, he raises the house lights too for some audience picking-on and participation and, on a night when Frank Skinner, Twitter-mad birthday boy and a sad Royal Bank of Scotland employee named Johann were amongst those in attendance, this provided lots of extra fanning of the comedy flames. By his own admission, Brydon attracts a safe, middle-class crowd (definitely not Russell Brand edgy types), but it’s a crowd that’s happy to laugh at themselves. And there’s much to laugh at here, deliciously recapped with a curtain call ditty that Brydon improvises based on members of the audience. Plenty of them Welsh, of course.
(Incidentally, Brydon is supported by Hal Cruttenden, who returns to the West End next month in acting guise in Dominic Cavendish’s one-man adaptation of George Orwell’s Coming up for Air. As a camp straight man – English, not Welsh – Cruttenden’s comedy gets to the nub of why it’s unmanly to be kind. A very jovial first-act warm-up.)