Recently, there has been a wave of comedians getting down to earth about how recovering from depression has affected their work, but this is maybe the first comic who is suggesting that you hold on to your melancholy. As a prominent wry misanthrope of the Edinburgh comedy scene, Matt Duwell has devised A Pessimist’s Guide To Being Happy, a gleefully droll show that proves that we can find mirth in our misery.
An English teacher from Brighton who’s happier than he has any right to be, Duwell performs in the deep teal basement of a Tiki bar which looks like a vegan charity shop he’s become co-owner of. Down here, he preaches a way of thinking that’s motivated by looking at life through a pessimistic lens, as he paces around the room joking about the idiosyncrasies of his character. He’s gifted with a commanding stage presence that offsets his predisposed awkward English nature, with gags about inane lads banter, harassment from overzealous Americans and the true meaning of casual sex.
Duwell delivers material in a deadpan style that’s followed up by an emotional response, bringing a sense of balance to his comedic timing. It’s done in a way that makes interacting with the audience fit seamlessly into his writing style, warming them up with a blend of biting sarcasm and genuine curiosity before stepping back into his material. By reading the room he’s able to draw out a lighter side of the audience rather than dwell on making them uncomfortable. The show feels at its most organically funny when he’s seeking out the crowd’s anecdotes about dysfunctional relationships and fateful Tinder matches.
Belief in the fact that the world is a terrible place gives Duwell a sense of peace, in an ideology that feels like mindfulness in reverse. There’s an upside to misery in that if you wallow in it, the good things that do happen to you will feel more significant. This mantra probably isn’t going to replace the Little Book of Calm, but when the optimism of the nineties is far behind us, why not take a gamble on a new life philosophy?
Duwell might be grasping this concept because of its superficial duality, but he makes up for any of the theme’s shortcomings by being both a solid joke writer and spontaneous performer. As bizarrely counterproductive as it sounds, his philosophy does start to make sense, perhaps because he’s able to infuse it with a dry wit that kills and a facetious grin you can’t help laugh along with.