Jack Dee is famous for his grumpy, ‘couldn’t-care-less’ attitude so it was hardly a surprise when the comedian walked onto the stage and glanced around the 18tth- century auditorium with an unimpressed sneer. “This place looks like it was made for a school project” and “it’s not much bigger than my bathroom.”
It certainly makes a change from the countless performers who wax lyrical about the beauty and intimacy of the venue and bounce energetically around its historic stage. Dee, on the other hand, was almost motionless and you felt it was with the greatest of effort that he summoned up the energy to raise a sarcastic eyebrow or attempt a thin-lipped smile.
There are other things that make Jack Dee different. He doesn’t do merchandise and he certainly doesn’t do audience participation. “You’ve done your bit buying a ticket” but the real reason follows “and I really don’t give a sh*t about who you are and where you’ve come from.”
In fact, he confesses to being much more comfortable about being at a point in his career when things have quietened down, and there is less pressure to try very hard. This current tour -‘Work in Progress’ – reflects this adopted mind set and is about trying out new material. Indeed, every now and then, he pauses to make notes about which gags work and which ones don’t. Not surprisingly, most do.
Jack Dee is also at a stage in his career where the ‘grumpy old man’ act that set him apart all those years ago now fits him like a glove. In his late fifties, everything irritates him and life gives him plenty of reasons to be morose and cheerless. Mary Berry; participants on the Antiques Roadshow; child-free couples who take brunch; and people who make their own hot cross buns all come under attack (the latter need to take a long hard look in the mirror and slap themselves round the face). He even has an anti-bucket list and is slowly working his way through the things he doesn’t want to do. This includes not going to Gibralta; getting a tattoo (David Beckham looks like a scribble pad in WH Smiths); and potholing.
Family life often gives him a springboard into routines and, to all intents and purposes, he sounds like just like any other middle-aged dad. On the subject of kids – he warns that you should never, ever consider them as your friends.
One hilarious domestic rant, describes the delivery of a new mattress for the marital bed and the collection of the old one, which is sepia colour with stains and tidemarks that resemble a Medieval map. Even the dog is embarrassed as it is taken away. Another describes his attempt to get rid of the childhood toys that are now cluttering up the empty nest and ends up with Dee traumatising his long-suffering wife by replacing the cute little infant-sized plaster handprints on the stairs with his own full-sized concrete prints. It could easily pass for a scene out of any horror movie and you can’t help but feel sorry for the people that have to share this man’s life.
Despite this, Dee is undoubtedly very funny and the audience loved him. They didn’t seem to mind being insulted and lapped up the cascade of irritants put before them. After all, Dee’s reputation precedes him, and this is exactly what you expect. Perhaps what you don’t expect is the encore. After energetic applause, Dee pulled out an undersized guitar (“things are always smaller than you expect when ordering on the Internet”) and sang a jaunty song in praise of Paracetamol – an excellent antidote to the numerous songs inspired by the more ‘high profile’ substances favoured by other lyricists. He was almost animated!