Like a good magician, a gifted comedian can make you gape slack-jawed in wonder at the mysteries of their craft. Fifteen minutes in to James Acaster’s new show Reset and the audience is shaking with laughter. It’s hard to ascertain just how we got to this point, so subtle has the process been.
Acaster slowly builds his routine around seemingly whimsical, almost inane observations. From the moment he addresses the crowd as if they’re the audience he’s been waiting for his whole life he begins to weave an intricate tapestry. Ridiculous tall-tales about being put into the witness protection program for fraudulent honey production, British colonial pilfering of overseas treasures, well-building in Kenya. They all contribute towards an overarching meditation on the desire to start again, to have another go at life.
Even as a successful comedian, perhaps one of the very best of his generation, Acaster still has doubts about the paths he has taken. He reserves particular disdain for those who say they would do exactly the same, even if given the chance to live their lives again. There is always some nugget of dissatisfaction he says, and we can all empathise with his sentiment. It adds an extra layer of engagement beyond mere appreciation of an extravagantly gifted comedian.
Reset is a beautifully-constructed hour of comedy, written with understated elegance and the sharpest of wit. Yet it isn’t so hermetically-sealed in its own thematic cocoon that Acaster can’t pause to scold a front-row litterbug and slip seamlessly back into his flow.
Acaster can inject off-kilter surrealism into the most mundane and innocuous situation. He’s the Rene Magritte of stand-up. Something as simple as an attempt to purchase a divider at a supermarket checkout turns into a Sisyphean ordeal. ‘Thus began the longest day of my life,’ he says wryly. ‘They kept moving it back to the end of the conveyor belt.’ It’s simple, and may not look like a lot on paper. In Acaster’s hands though, it’s uproariously funny.
It’s really impossible to recommend Reset highly enough. It’s hugely intelligent, meticulous in its writing and delivery, and it is simply hilarious. Sublime.