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Carl Donnelly: Different Gravy
Published on Friday, 24 August 2012
4

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Comedy
1-12, 14-26 Aug, 8:30pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Liam McKenna

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Carl Donnelly has written his autobiography, on the off-chance he experiences overnight fame sometime soon – because, he says, he is too lazy to meet a deadline. He’s also written it up to the age of 40. He recently turned 30.

As the audience settles down we see a childhood slideshow, featuring photos of Donnelly as a young drinker and miscreant, and a somewhat incriminating picture of his older brother. This sets the tone for the evening. The show is a cautionary tale for unruly youths, a category to which Donnelly once belonged. It’s fitting, too, as there is a family in tonight with one child as young as ten. Donnelly is initially suspicious of the parents’ choice to bring their child along. “There are adult themes”, he warns, but he hopes that any young people present can at least learn something from his antics.

Donnelly’s brand of comedy is casual, anecdotal, and built around the truth. His autobiography, excerpts of which are read out with soft jazz playing in the background, is by its nature (including, as it does, the future) “hugely embellished”. After all, he reminds us, our lives are actually quite boring. He tells us of his tough upbringing on the streets of South London, being peer-pressured into stealing Filofaxes, and relates this to how he’s now lounging around in hammocks and eating oysters. He’s the first to admit that he’s progressed in life, and he’s not pretending he’s still that same working-class boy; he says his 15-year-old self would stab him if he saw him now.

Comedy, for Donnelly, was a salvation. He was a lost youth, drinking, doing drugs, thieving, until he discovered stand-up. And there is still an element of a changing man; he’s started doing ‘dad jokes’ after realising that dads “are funny…they just want to ruin other people’s lives.” His lack of background in comedy accounts for his “odd style”, constantly veering off-topic to tell us about the oysters and about a bead of sweat that ran down his bum crack while reading an excerpt during a previous show.

There are times when you want to question the legitimacy of the autobiographical claims, because some of the content (like the run-in with a sibling’s finger) seem so far-fetched. But he assures us it is “mostly” true, and it’s all told with such sincerity that you can’t help but believe it. The story about Carl and his friend in a gay night club, for one, is a memorable experience which alone will justify buying the autobiography, should it ever be published.

Aside from the personal and sordid stories of a mis-spent youth (discovering the varying strengths of acid, losing his virginity to a prostitute, and so on), Donnelly makes some interesting points on society too. As someone who’s experienced life on the streets of Tooting, he doesn’t think drugs should be legalised. He also feels that age limits need more of a grey area. “If two 14-year-olds walk into a pub and order Guinness,” he suggests, “serve them.” Donnelly has some fantastic ideas, speaks a lot of sense, and is an example of how simply applying yourself can help steer you away from trouble. Regarding the riots, he says that if someone had asked him to smash up JD Sports at age 15, he would have gladly done it. Because there was no other outlet for him. He’s angry at how it has been dismissed in large parts as “pure criminality”; it’s a controversial point, but the audience is right on his side.

And this now is Carl Donnelly’s outlet: comedy. He oozes confidence and lights up the room with his London twang and “auber-jeans”. He’s a warm character, even if the 40-year-old Carl Donnelly of the autobiography is a smug “sex symbol” and self-proclaimed “national treasure”. I would highly recommend this show for anyone who wants to laugh, cringe at the longest build up to a dad-joke ever, and judge the tales of a meddlesome youth. But maybe don’t bring your kids.

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