Daniel Kitson Is Operating In A League Of His Own

The maverick British comedian remains as unconventional, accessible and vital as ever, as his show at The Battersea Arts Centre showed.
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The maverick British comedian remains as unconventional, accessible and vital as ever, as his show at The Battersea Arts Centre showed.

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A short, balding man sporting glasses and a thick beard wanders onto the stage before sitting at a wooden desk and preparing two small electronic devices for playback. “Hope you like it,” he says, before pressing a button and triggering an audio loop.

This is not how your average stand-up gig usually starts, but Daniel Kitson is not your average stand-up comedian, a fact for which we should be very grateful indeed. The comic’s performances usually veer between conventional comedy and reflective, more intimate spoken word pieces. Tonight, it seems, is a bit of both.

The audio loops function as a background for Kitson’s monologues. He is sat down for the gig’s duration (the very opposite of stand-up, then) pressing buttons and triggering pre-recorded dialogue while sharing thoughts on himself and the human condition. It’s different, but it works, and in an age of bland, superstar comedians and cheap humour, both Kitson and his methodology are like manna from heaven.

His material often ventures into the contemplative and metaphysical, but it also has both feet on the ground. He uses mundane snapshots of everyday life as a means of asking deeper questions, and he frequently has the audience in stitches. When pondering whether the pool table in his house is a poor substitute for having children, he comes to the conclusion that he made the right choice as “you can’t get off with someone up against a child.”

Kitson can often be intense, and such intensity is at times hard work for an audience taking in an hour and 40 minutes of material on a balmy July evening, but Kitson is a man with a lot of say and respectful enough of his craft and his audience to ensure that we all get our money’s worth. He is a thinker, and he expresses ideas that resonate and encourage whoever is listening to think about themselves.

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This is free-form comedy. It makes us laugh, but it’s not irreverent. It’s existential but it never reduces itself to pretentious navel-gazing. One minute Kitson will be explaining how there are no absolute truths and another minute he will be recalling an anecdote about sticking his penis through an ex-girlfriend’s car window. The window, you’ll be pleased to know, was rolled down at the time.

While watching him, you get the feeling there are few other comics trying to do anything like this. Kitson has the common touch and fantastic comic timing, but by and large he seems to be operating in a field of one. After one last round of loops, samples and theorising, he announces the show is over and leaves the stage to rapturous applause. Everyone here is hoping he’ll be back soon.