To say A Tale of Two Gays is very gay is not a homophobic slight. Mark Bittlestone and Will Dalrymple have been parading round town with a giant pink cock-and-balls cut-out you can stick your face through, the promo materials have Dalrymple larking about with dildos (one each end), and in interview they state their objective is to “make jokes about being gay in as many different ways as possible”. In case you still hadn’t got the point, they rev up the crowd on arrival with Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) and hand you questionnaires to check you’re ready for their “gay agenda”. They’d be disappointed if you didn’t realise how gay this is.
Indeed, the first half is made into a sort of primer for straights into gay life. They open with a “how gay are you test?” with straight guys in the audience, to which the multiple choice answers are essentially a.) gay, b.) gayer, c.) gayest. The questions themselves are hit and miss, but one veers fantastically off into a weird erotic fantasy about Ed Miliband, erect and willing in a woodland glade, to the point you’ve forgotten the original question. There’s then a whirlwind tour of sketches from gay history to prove that gays have been around since the dawn of time (cue humping cavemen and a head-giving Charles I).
Bittlestone is, if you pardon the expression, the straight man, in the comedic sense. He’s calmer and quieter than Dalrymple who gets the more outré lines and is more excitable and wired. Both seem very posh (both ex-Cambridge) which Dalrymple in particular plays up to, but it’s done with such self-awareness of how they come across that it disarms any potential poshophobes in the audience, and works to their advantage.
They each give us versions of their coming out stories. Dalrymple’s is delivered as erotic fiction in which his exaggeratedly homophobic Yorkshire parents contrast with graphically described bedroom antics. And it is graphic. There’s a couple of moments here and elsewhere in the show where he’s too transparently gunning for a reaction and the gross-out outruns the humour. When he judges it right though, it’s sickly funny.
Bittlestone’s story is told via stand-up. The jokes in this are sometimes very good, but his delivery is curiously static and timid (he plays much bigger when he’s in character later on, so it’s not a confidence thing). It sits strangely with the sketches that form the rest of the set, suggesting this was originally separate from the rest of the show, but does work to create contrast between his and Dalrymple’s onstage personas.
In between these solo bits are all sorts of quickfire sketches – gays commentating on football matches, the worst thing that can happen to a gay man, a nature v nurture debate about homosexuality. They come and go in a flash so even the weaker ones aren’t unwelcome.
By way of a through line about Mark’s dead parents – a baldly bleak thread from which little comedy is extracted – they arrive at a neat false ending. And before that arrives we’ve had the sheer joy of seeing a straight man having to read out Dalrymple’s homoerotic memoirs, a full book of which is for sale afterwards.
It’s been a blast, a show whose brazenness you can revel in. Dalrymple needs to turn down the excitability a little, and Bittlestone could be more animated at times, but you sense they’re still learning to judge levels, and progressing quickly. There’s certainly a good comedy base to work with, once they’ve got that right.