Phill Jupitus : Shirking Progress (Greater Manchester Fringe Festival)
Phill Jupitus covers some dark material in his new show and David Cunningham thinks with a few tweaks, it will be a hit at Edinburgh.
Most comedians limit their ‘autobiographical' material to just a few anecdotes. But Phill Jupitus is more ambitious.
Shirking Progress sees the comedian/actor looking back and wondering why he has changed so little over the years and, as someone diagnosed morbidly obese, planning how to exit the world in such a squalid way that the media dare not report his demise.
As the gig is a warm up for the Edinburgh Festival there is also the chance to see Jupitus deconstruct his material and try and figure out why a joke works at some venues and not others.
Jupitus was raised by a mother with unusual parenting skills. He started primary school with a reading age of fourteen yet, due to her liberal attitude, had access to pornography at far too young an age. As a result he alternated reading AA Milne with the letters page of ‘Penthouse'. Possibly this upbringing may explain why Jupitus was unable to offer the required appalled reaction when his daughter came out as gay – a fact he still feels guilty about.
Jupitus's involvement with the Labour Party in the 1980s brings both authenticity and an edge of personal betrayal to his savagely accurate analysis of bland modern politics. In a brilliant extended sequence he explains how it was once possible to distinguish between political parties simply by the sounds they made.
Jupitus is more a storyteller than a comedian. He opens with a marvellous piece describing builders applying sun tan lotion to each other in the style of the homoerotic ‘Snails and Oysters' scene from ‘Sparticus'. Yet when it comes to the comedian's stock in trade of jokes with punchlines he is less successful.
The routines are delivered in such a dry manner and go on so long that the punchline is not always apparent; and, Jupitus argues, does not get the deserved reaction.
The concluding sequence in which Phill describes how he has developed a death wish for nodding off while driving (he now travels in pyjamas while listening to Radio 3) has shock value as he is so honest about the extent to which his lifestyle has limited his lifespan.
A comedian acknowledging that his weight imposes a finite lifespan is far more disturbing than the very funny, if dark, routine that follows.
Modest to a fault, Phill Jupitus describes the current format of the show as a germ of an idea. It is certainly strong enough to make one seek out the finished product.
Shrinking Progress is at the Kings Arms, Salford until 9 July.
- Dave Cunningham