Henry Paker: Man Alive at Soho Theatre
During an introspective moment at the end of his show, Henry Paker mentions that he has only included it because it’s trendy to end a comedy routine on a sadder note. This self-conscious humour, combined with the formal innovation of combining stand-up and animation, should lead to a nuanced and interesting performance. Unfortunately for Paker, the actual content of his comedy gets in his way.
There is no reason that comedy has to push boundaries or create something totally innovative to be really great stand-up; the previous week’s performer in the downstairs of the Soho Theatre was Suzi Ruffell, who is always affable, always charming and achingly funny in an unchallenging but specific and highly idiosyncratic way. Paker tries similarly to stick to some of the mainstays of a stand-up routine: marriage, middle-class life and commuting all feature. Unlike Ruffell, however, he comes at these from very negative and very well-established standpoints. Eventually, his jibes about his wife and his not-quite-homophobic-enough-to-be-angry-about punchlines get weary and the negativity becomes frustrating as opposed to setting him up as the relatable everyman.
This traditional stand-up fare is interspersed with a separate, fairy-tale story told through animation. This narrative is charming and endearing, but tonally, it is completely at odds with Paker’s live material. The jarring switch between the two is played for laughs deftly the first couple of times, but after that, it just seems as if Paker had two ideas and meshed them together regardless of fit.
When it comes to his introspective ending, the comedian bravely admits that he does actually like his wife, but as a married comic he has to get up on stage and mock her anyway. This opens him up for the question: does he? Paker can’t quite decide if his show is at the cutting edge or not, and the resulting combination of seen-before cynicism, optimistic experimentation of media and comedy-world take-down dilutes each feature until it really isn’t much of anything.
Photo: Idil Sukan
Henry Paker: Man Alive is at Soho Theatre from 21st March until 23rd March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.