Saturday, 10 March 2012

Cariad Lloyd

'I really enjoyed that. And I don't like comedy.'
Had you told me that this would be the nicest compliment I would ever receive in six years of doing stand-up, I might have been disinclined ever to try the art form AND-IT-IS-AN-ART-FORM-DON'T-DENY-IT-FOR-A-SECOND!!!!! in the first place.
In practice, however, I appreciated the remark deeply. I don't much like comedy either, you see, so to be congratulated by a fellow non-traveller meant a lot. I like to think that one sentence conveyed the message: 'You and I are both grown-ups. We know that television is typically dominated by the young and lithe and beautiful, and that there may not be a place on a mainstream show for someone as unapologetically erudite, ground-breaking, and spleen-bustingly funny as you. But I wanted to tell you that you have a place in the world, that you have reminded me that goodness and wonder exist and that I will follow you unquestioningly for the rest of my days.'
Now, obviously I'm being somewhat disingenuous. Of course there are comedians I like, admire and enjoy watching. Some of them are friends, some of them are strangers, and a few of them are mainstream and massively successful. It's just that years of seeing the same kind of thing time after time does leave one a little jaded. I'm much more likely to laugh at a shambolic but original comedian than at a seasoned but predictable pro, not out of some ghastly reverse snobbery but because I have to be surprised by something to laugh at anything. I have a disconcerting habit of laughing at beautifully constructed set-ups - i.e. before the punchline has been delivered - which has put more than one comic off their stride.
Rarely, though, do I leave a show blown away by the brilliance of what has unfurled before me. As that did happen last night, I thought I should share it with you.
Cariad Lloyd performs with some of my buddies in a show called Austentatious. They dress as characters from a Jane Austen novel and then, prompted by audience suggestions, they improvise a one hour show based on the title of a novel Austen might have written. Suffice to say they are fantastic. I saw them the other night, sat upon a chair that was emphatically not designed for a man my size, and was delighted to see they have raised their game from excellent to super-excellent.
So when I learned that I could see Cariad's one person show at the Soho Theatre on the same night I was due to see Adam Riches, I leapt at the chance to have someone else sort me out with a ticket. (Thanks Rob, and lovely to see you again.) Do catch Riches, by the way, he's tremendous fun.
I thought she'd be good. I'd seen enough of her work with Austentatious to know she was very funny and that she could act exceptionally well. I had a hunch I would be rather impressed. As it turns out, Cariad Lloyd is world-beatingly brilliant.
She started the show with a few minutes of quite outstanding stand-up (as if that's not enough, damn her!) before launching into a succession of wholly convincing, varied, memorable and hilarious characters. Her writing is sensationally good - original, insightful and wicked. She is a talented mimic and, as Rob remarked, there is no gap between the writing and the execution. She is not a slave to the writing, though, and offered up several terrific ad libs and asides.
The laughter, which came often, came in great gales. But the show was spellbinding in lots of other ways, for example as a series of dramatic pieces. All the best sitcoms are fine dramas, but it's rare indeed for sketches to pull that off. In fact I can't think of anyone other than Fry and Laurie who have. Cariad Lloyd does.
Oh yes, there's another thing. That the matter ought to have been put to bed years ago (because it should be perfectly and universally apparent that the answer is 'yes') doesn't mean that the question 'Are women funny?' is unimportant. Once Christopher Hitchens weighed in I suppose it was inevitable that debate would continue to rage. It has an impact still because lots of men and - in my experience - not a few women are highly sceptical of female comedians. If they would only go and see Cariad Lloyd, that scepticism would be crushed like any professional footballer would be crushed by the smallest professional rugby player. (Odd to bring that subject up here; it's hardly the place and it's not worth getting het up about at the best of times. I'm not even sure if it's true when I think of Oxford United's Matt Elliott, who was huge. Oh well.)
You should see if tickets are available for the final show of Lloyd's run tonight.
OK, I cheated slightly at the outset of this piece. The nicest compliment I ever received was when the same lady, having left the venue, made a point of walking back in, coming back up to me and saying, 'Look, you've really cheered me up, THANK YOU.' That was proper lump in the throat territory. For, in the final analysis, that is what comedy is all about - offering people a moment in time when they can be completely absorbed in something other than themselves and laugh heartily as though they hadn't a care in the world. Cariad Lloyd can offer that to you, in spades.
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