As part of Glasgow International Comedy Festival 2018
Bounding on stage and immaculately turned out in his suit and waistcoat, Tom Allen outlines the main thrust of what tonight’s show will focus on: his sexuality, his upbringing and how he always felt different (read: better) than everyone else. His persona is established as being a seemingly contradictory mixture of warm yet slightly haughty, with a stream of bitchy comments and observations always bubbling away under the surface. The cattiness really comes out when interacting with the front row of the audience; Allen is certainly capable of thinking fast and dealing with whatever is thrown at him. From a punter facing redundancy to those in the NHS being all bunched together, the quips come thick and fast. Pleasingly he continually refers to his front row victims throughout the show, creating a nice dynamic and avoiding making this feel like random padding. “Anyway, back to me…” he eventually intones with an expertly smug grin.
And it really is all about Allen. The first act looks at his childhood; describing being in a classroom as watching the teacher “having a nervous breakdown” is superb. His sexuality and uneasy class identity (continually trying to prove “I’m better than everyone else”) are expertly mined for comic material. His wry focus on birthday parties back in the day is a particular highlight. Indeed, he becomes increasingly manic in his delivery as he begins to reel off all the horrendous aspects, from goodie bags to being packed into a car with an impossibly large number of children. It’s all very professionally delivered but creates an impression it’s rather scripted and has been performed on tour before. Allen, by his very pedigree on the comedy circuit, is certainly not rough around the edges.
The second act (opening with more audience interaction, which extends out to the second row) feels even more reflective. From his first time driving after passing his test to confronting a Daily Mail reading baby boomer, Allen’s focus on his love life while educating the straight audience about gay dating apps is as sweet as it is genuinely funny. There’s a real affection for his parents, hen party organisers and friends on display in amongst all of the mock outrage and exaggerated self-importance that is just impossible not to like. As things draw to a close call-backs to previous jokes and interactions with the audience are all expertly thrown together as he begins to dial up the sense of mania to a climax. It could have felt horribly overstuffed but it’s paced so well that everything weaves together nicely.
Although consisting of two fifty minute acts, proceedings never drag during Absolutely. This is mainly due to Allen delivering more tried-and-tested material alongside an intelligent and measured ability to interact with seemingly anyone on any topic. More impressive is his lightening ability to spin an ever increasing number of plates: in-jokes pile up and morph as if they have a life of their own. He performs an encore about leisure centres in the mid-John Major era (which is painfully accurate for those of us in his age group), prefiguring this by apologising “some of you may have heard this before.” Apologies aren’t required as he puts the final plate to rest over when he first he knew he was gay.