A scruffy, bearded man who plays to rooms packed with lefties. Is Liam Williams the comedy Jeremy Corbyn?
The self-confessed ‘reluctant socialist’ – returning here with his third solo hour of self-aware stand-up – certainly shares many of the same concerns as the new Labour leader: social justice, inequality, imaginary evil wizards who force you to marry your girlfriend (okay, maybe not that last one).
But they differ on something fundamental: a confidence in the power of ordinary people to change the world, and especially dreary, cynical old England. Not for nothing did Williams title his show Bonfire Night, a reference to Guy Fawkes and his failed English revolution.
Which isn’t to say the Leeds-born comic is uncaring – some of the best bits of the show bristle with righteous anger: the language of neoliberalism, with its ‘wealth creators’ and ‘trickle down’ economics (‘like if Noel Gallagher leaves 5p in a vending machine’), for example, is mercilessly skewered.
It’s just that he can’t shake off his essential pessimism. In a bravura skit on climate change, he lays bare his (and our) rampant hypocrisy: he wants to save the planet but is happy to let fruit flown halfway across the world sit rotting in a bowl.
It’s this delicious self-mocking streak, with gags aplenty, that brilliantly undercuts the heavy subject matter. Change the world? He couldn’t even convince the Edinburgh Festival organisers to let him use an emoji for the title of this show.
It’s not all stand-up: there’s a surprise musical departure too. Twice the Cambridge alumnus unexpectedly launches into a ‘sad lad rap’ – imagine a serotonin-deficient Sleaford Mods. It’s an interesting new avenue for his mordant observations.
In places his lack of experience shows: there’s a rambling faux duologue too many (he’s fond of these imaginary two-way conversations), and some sections feel a little too indebted to the meta-contortions of the peerless Stewart Lee.
But overall it’s a thoughtful, eloquent, witty show, and one that confirms Williams as one of the most exciting voices in UK stand-up.
By Michael Curle