No-one ought to need telling how good Simon Munnery is, but every now and again it’s good to be reminded. Contemporaries may have had more stellar careers, but few can match Munnery’s comedy brain. It churns out some wonderful stuff. His opener – a sight gag filled interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door – would be the showpiece comedians half his age would build a show round. For Munnery, it’s mere preamble.
This show centres on the one-liner in the programme blurb: “I went to a funeral the other day; caught the wreath”. He uses this to ponder how jokes get divorced from context and become mere phrases; he ponders the thorny issue of joke ownership, via an insight into circuit politics; he uses it as the basis for a painting which illustrates the humour in the joke. But in parallel to this, through more conventional storytelling, he’s exploring the trials of middle life. That metaphorical wreath is arching its way into his hands.
Munnery, hard though it is to believe, has been working as a cleaner in a chicken factory to earn the family-supporting cash he isn’t making in comedy. That mental image of Munnery the Comedian in interaction with factory bosses who don’t know who he is, or trying to convey his comedy to Romanian chicken factory workers is funny in itself, as is his discovered devotion to cleanliness. What we’re getting here is a more vivid picture of the strains of middle life than any number of observational hours. There’s that odd mix of domestic contentment, professional necessity, alpha-male drive and beta-male resignation. It’s subtly and stylishly done.
Versatility and variety is the key here. This isn’t route one, straight up the park. He can switch from a twistedly logical paedophilia gag back to storytelling about his child’s chess club without skipping a beat or losing the audience. Tone and style switching happens a lot, and all the time helps build the picture Munnery is painting.
A reading of the banter he has with Boothby Graffoe over chess games is the only questionable move. It gets the laughs, but cheaply – it’s two comedians trading insults, they can do that kind of thing in their sleep. It doesn’t really suit the set. Otherwise, it’s another masterful Fringe hour. Not headline-grabbing or attention-seeking like the young bucks elsewhere, just creeping quietly up on you. Like the grave.