Known primarily for his hosting duties and appearances on a thematically wide breadth of BBC television shows from comedy behemoth Mock the Week to nerdy Brian Cox wonder-show Stargazing Live, Dara O’Briain has become something of a national treasure (or as close to that as you can be hailing from Ireland).
Voice of Reason marks the beginning of a gruelling two-year long stand-up comedy tour, though O’Briain is quick to note that while for some enduring long periods of travel and performing constantly might be a chore, it is something he relishes – travelling the world, getting paid to stand on stage and tell jokes to rooms full of adoring audiences.
And this enthusiasm couldn’t be more apparent. Though this is the very first night of the tour and you could be forgiven to expect a few slip-ups, O’Briain is so accomplished at his craft that the night flows seamlessly, each minute jabbed with such a constant Morse-code stream of gags that you find your aching belly begging for a moment’s respite.
Like most comedians that venture up this way, O’Briain opens with remarks about Aberdeen, and specifically with bewildered indignity at getting to perform at the opulent His Majesty’s Theatre for the first time after years of playing the currently-being-refurbished Music Hall. Then with his admirable quick wit and fast stream-of-consciousness style, he muses on stalwart comedic topics such as the BBC, Brexit, cultural and societal observations, culminating in a section before the interval that garners the most laughs of the night by far – an absurd and yet convincing reasoning of the immutable flaws of Virtual Reality.
Voice of Reason proves to be a remarkably accessible show. But O’Briain’s accessibility, evidenced by his superb ability to converse with any member of the front row and extract as much humour as possible from the interaction, also marks his greatest weakness. The glossy sheen of his act, while on one hand reinforcing the professionalism and wizardry of it, can also be viewed as the unwanted precipitate of its safety and unwillingness to take many risks. There is nothing daring or revolutionary going on – what stand-up comedy should be all about.
Therein lies the trap of success; the further up the totem pole a television star like O’Briain climbs, the more he has to lose, and there is the understandable impulse to guard this esteemed status. Therefore, the authenticity of his stand-up suffers.
But, these misgivings still bow in comparison to the undeniable virtuosity of his performance, and his propensity for comedy in general. There is something about O’Briain that is inherently funny; and on a cold Monday night in Brexit-imminent Aberdeen (an innately dismal image), he is a beacon of light in the dark, and a bastion of humour amidst the dourness.