Review: Stephen Merchant, City Hall

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Hmmm, the tall one on his own. Is he THAT funny?

Does he have enough to carry a one man show?

Yes and yes.

Stephen Merchant made his way to international renown via Ricky Gervais, having worked with him as producer in the early radio days and been a part of the development of the world’s currently most successful comedian.

All that doesn’t mean he can hold an audience on his own for the best part of 90 minutes.

But he can, and brilliantly so.

The references are there to Gervais, the false immodesty on fame, success and the Baftas, the crushing self deprecation of his so-called failed attempts to find a wife, his sexual shortcomings and a heightened sense of his own physical ridiculousness.

It’s all turned into top class comedy by Merchant’s writing with hilarious highlights including the description of the agony of trying to eject a VHS porn video as a panicky teenager as ‘like waiting for an old man to get out of a bath’.

He portrays himself as tight-fisted, pedantic, sexist, gawky and doesn’t shy away from brutal self ridicule.

And it’s all pretty hilarious.

There are Cleese-like lankiness moments as he plays out his stooping to enter rooms, being made to sit by the emergency exit on aeroplanes and a doctor delivering bad news in text speak.

Hello Ladies ends with a re-run of an over sincere and politicised school play apparently from his own youth.

Whether it’s real or not doesn’t matter.

Merchant makes it work superbly, all on his own.

Martin Smith