When the teenage Ed Night (then still known as Ed Day) grabbed third place in the 2015 So You Think You’re Funny? final, he seemed like a confident, chipper, geezerish South London bloke. The next year, he seemed a little more acerbic, but well within the bounds of mainstream comedy. Then last year, Anthem For Doomed Youth got him a best newcomer nomination to confirm that potential. So far, so straightforward.
But he isn’t evolving as you might have expected. Far from continuing a safe, steady rise into mainstream comedy, he’s gone heavily for polemics, to what might be the detriment of his career if his beef with the BBC is anything to go by. This is a tense hour, uncomfortable in tone, occasionally uncomfortable to be in a room with, but weirdly compelling.
Night’s worked up about “The Culture” and he looks itchily ill-at-ease with the hypocrisy and complacency of what he sees around him. The BBC will censure him for using the “c”-word, but remains strangely blind to its own institutional failings. He’s a feminist but how can he square that with some of his own actions, and the actions of those around him? His grasp of these issues suggests an immersion in them from an early age that simply wasn’t present in previous generations. This level of world-weariness and hard-won wisdom is usually the province of someone older, but he’s not about to ditch it for light stuff about dating mishaps. Something about him means business.
This is worth persevering with through sardonic stuff about Catholicism, crowd work that never seems like it’s going to get anyone on side, and some material about class, purely just to see where he’s going with it. A lot of his woke diatribes are well done, but they hang awkwardly in the air to a smattering of applause, and no laughs because there’s been no punchline.
In an excruciating moment he gets the worst of heckles while mid-flow. He’s already been disrupted by a toilet-goer while doing a bit on strip clubs (we never get the end of that particular story) and skips ahead to a section about his porn-watching when he spots an older man drop his head to his hands. Unwisely, but inevitably, he seeks to challenge him, and we wait for the car to crash. “I’m done with it,” says the man, frustrated with the topic. The room’s against him, but he’s kind of right. A millennial talking about his porn habit. Again. “Wait for the punchline,” says Night. And he’s right too – it’s a good line and worth the build-up. It’s that kind of night, maybe that kind of show. Long build-ups on zeitgeisty topics which may or may not end in a line that pays off.
And that’s not all. He’s not the only comedian [hello, Fin Taylor] to make an allegation about [celebrity redacted] this year, nor the only one to raise the spectre of R Kelly in relation to them. This is the less comical, but most barbed of the two, and potentially what this hour will be remembered for. In a Weinsteinian way, there’s a tip of an iceberg here, one suspects. The celebrity in question is not someone whose unsavoury behaviour would surprise anyone; Night’s palpable frustration here is with the open secret that’s been allowed to roll on. He’s been in these circles a long time, and has his own #metoo stories to tell. This is the moment to call time on it.
For sure, there are lots of reasons to watch this hour. Laughs, though, are a fair way down the list.