‘Stnad-Up’ vs ‘Stdad-Up’. Two tongue-tying, autocorrect-mocking John-Luke Roberts show titles over two consecutive years, each one dealing with a tried and tested (or tired and tepid) stand-up topic: the end of a long relationship and the death of the comic’s father. ‘Stnad-Up’ (which, god help me, I’ve only just clocked is a pun on his ex-girlfriend and Behemoth sketch partner Nadia Kamil’s name) was a raw, fearless, boundary-pushing hour of introspective clowning and provocative anti-comedy; ‘Stdad-Up’ (the pun’s more obvious there) is, for better or worse, more of the same.
Last year's mimed intro where he lip-syncs using strategically placed chattering teeth? That’s back. The bell he dings whenever he tells a truth? That’s survived as well. The denoument where he insults every audience member before turning to a mirror and confronting himself? That's actually been around for a while now. It’s considered bad form for a critic to spoil a comedian’s big reveals; what about when the comedian does it himself?
Of course, with Roberts’ intellect, the similarity in shows, underlined by those near-identical titles, is probably a commentary on the laziness of his fellow comics who continue to work these subjects to death (no pun intended). ‘You can substitute one bitter heartbreak for another and the same material still works,’ he seems to be saying. And, when he’s making points as abstract as this, maybe he’s right – the stunts he pulls are still breathtakingly hilarious, but nevertheless, a bit lazy.
The newer, dad-specific stuff is where he really deserves praise. Stripping off his clothes and donning a balloon-stuffed baggy suit that he claims belonged to his old man (with whom he had, shall we say, a complicated relationship), he adopts an aggressive, brash persona that’s not a million miles from Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton or, more recently, Gregg Turkington’s Neil Hamburger. It’s deeply uncomfortable to watch someone work through these issues so nakedly on-stage (that one’s intended), but the end result is more cathartic than cringe-worthy, for the audience as well as Roberts. Let’s just hope he’s found some new jokes ahead of what I’ll happily predict is next year’s show, ‘Stdan-Up’, about his mate Dan. Who’s, I dunno, dying or something.