Dylan Moran at the Canberra Theatre

19 Sep

The last time I’d seen the Irish comedian was early 2009, when I had no idea the character his name represented, having not seen any of the short-lived cult hit Black Books (much to the horror of my friends). I’d enjoyed him then, but figured now that I had seen and thoroughly enjoyed Black Books – thus catching up to what seems like the rest of the planet – it made sense to see Dylan Moran again at the Canberra Theatre, this time ‘in context’.

Moran had already been in Canberra the week before, appearing dwarfed at the much larger National Convention Centre – a pretty big nod to his popularity with the Territory’s population. A friend had tweeted from Saturday’s performance, so I had a small idea what jokes to expect. He’d found Moran underwhelming, rating him a 2/5 at the intermission. Friends in my group had also heard poor reports from shows in other capital cities. This information in hand, we collectively set our expectations as low as possible, in the hope this way they’d at least be met.

We arrived near the starting time of 8pm, and the lines to the back doors were moving so slowly that they opened the side ones and ushered us through there, creating a bit of confusion for patrons trying to find their seats and realising they were some significant distance away. The Canberra Theatre suffers the same affliction that most theatre venues do: crammed seats, both in terms of leg room and height, where you hope desperately that you’re not seated in the vicinity of anyone who is especially tall, moves their head a lot, or has a peculiar and distinct laugh.

We were lucky on two out of three  but got caught out on the last one, making it quite hard to concentrate – and concentration is something you need in shows like Moran’s or Ross Noble’s, where their sometimes lengthy absurdist jokes require a particular amount of attention be paid.  Of a 100 minute show, the intermission (included in those 100) was almost painfully long – a touch over 30 minutes.

“It’s a Friday night – what are you all doing here?” he began, before the Canberra bagging was slathered on; his only reprieve was acknowledging we had a right to complain about winter because we actually get one (a common comment from visitors to Canberra!). His trademark glass of red wine was left untouched, carried off stage in the intermission. On his return, with the full glass of wine presumably a refilled one, he also had a block of chocolate which he kept pushing into his mouth before throwing it to the audience, saying he couldn’t keep it there without eating it all. Is this the ‘unpredictable’ Moran we’ve come to expect? Not so, given he did the same thing at other shows.

The show was okay. It did surpass my low expectations. I definitely laughed, and I’m by no means a giggler. But, I think the problem with Moran is his ongoing association with his Black Books character Bernard Black – whether deliberate on Moran’s part, or he just can’t escape the character, he still plays to it. This is in distinct contrast to fellow former Black Books co-star Bill Bailey, who I think has continued to establish himself as his own brand.

Of course, there’s no doubt the character of Bernard Black is hilarious, his cynical humour well-loved, and Moran knows this.  I know fans of Dylan Moran go just to see this.  It’s a style Moran knows, it’s been his shtick for so long, it’s safe.

But, it’s actually not safe at all. Black Books ended seven and a half years ago and it’s completely obvious Moran has aged and – dare I say it – matured beyond his public persona.  He tried to pull it off, but his delivery and jokes missed the mark: he’s just not believable as the cranky drunk anymore – and maybe this is because he’s not that person anymore. His attempts to deliver sardonic lines often only just touched on the jeers we got two and a half years ago. It’s honestly like he’s faking it; it’s obvious that he’s trying, that it’s no longer effortless.

Of course it’s risky, but Moran should do his fans and himself a favour by letting his humour and public persona develop naturally in sync with his private one. Instead, what we’re treated to is like when a pop group reforms, trying to recreate the magic years after their heyday – it only works in very rare cases.

It increasingly doesn’t work for Moran.

Someone Said Chicken

Image by Looking Glass via Flickr

When: 8pm-9.45pm, Friday 9 September
Attendees: T1 and friends
Cost: $68.90
Worthwhile factor: Really, you shouldn’t have to set low expectations when you’re paying anything over $50 to see a comedian
Want more: Dylan Moran, Canberra Theatre

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