Can You Love a Stand-Up Special About Loathing?

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The highlight is the breakup, a tale that focuses on how his girlfriend went on to date Rowan Atkinson, the comedian best known for playing the English comic institution Mr. Bean, a specialist in bumbling physical pratfalls. In a sad-sack sulk, Acaster describes the peculiarly hilarious horror of being a young comic “left for Mr. Bean,” a phrase he says over and over again with the urgency of violins in a horror movie. It’s a masterwork of cringe comedy, one he consistently digresses from to anticipate the criticism that he is being bitter and petty.

Acaster is no truth-telling comic who doesn’t care what people think. He seems concerned about coming off well, but uses his own sensitivity to add another layer of tension to his stories. In explaining the fallout with his agent, he makes a big show of being fair, so much so that he says he will only tell the story from his point of view. It begins: “The first thing you have to know is I ruined everything and I did it for a laugh.”

It’s a familiar trick, making someone look ridiculous by imagining the terrible logic of their thinking, but few have committed to it so fully or for as long. Many of Acaster’s jokes have a theatrical quality, and he incorporates not just act-outs, but also elaborate pantomime with props. He even makes a short play out of ordering food at a restaurant to illustrate his opinion on Brexit.

He acts out his fights with gusto, and in his dispute with his agent, he reminds you of his struggles with mental health that led him to the therapist, which results in the show’s most explosive fight. When he takes out his phone to read her private text messages to him, he smiles like someone enjoying the pleasure of playing dirty.

This is a show that clearly has gone through many incarnations, which may be why with your purchase of “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999,” you also get another 40-minute performance on similar themes. Cold lasagne is actually never mentioned but even “hate myself” seems odd, since there’s so much other loathing going on here.

Muffled anger is sometimes a setup, other times a punchline, but always essential to this show. At one point, Acaster says he has toured all over the country, adding, “Let me tell you: I hate Britain, absolutely hate it.”

Then he pivots, apologetically, ever alert to the precise arrangement of words. “I phrased that wrong,” he says, pausing. “I hate British people.”



www.nytimes.com 2021-03-22 19:29:53

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