MICF review: Richard Gadd, Monkey See Monkey Do

Naysayers be damned, comedy is a broad church and Richard Gadd a powerful preacher. This monkey business is as rewarding as it is challenging.

Rightfully nominated for the 2017 Barry Award alongside Hannah Gadsby’s incredible Nanette, Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey Do is as powerful and insightful as comedy can be and to hell with small-minded ignorance questioning the show’s right to stand proud under the MICF banner.

It’s true that Scottish comedian Gadd himself acknowledges that a show built around the aftermath of a terrible event may seem like a tough ask for the forum. He certainly commiserates with a man who apparently turned up early in the run expecting Jimeoin, but to suggest that comedy cannot shine a light in dark places and indeed help those who find themselves shrouded in that very darkness is deeply reductive. Comedy operates across as broad a spectrum as theatre or film, and indeed the size of MICF allows plenty of room for shows like Gadd’s or Gadsby’s, which both grab toxic masculinity by the balls. Be warned, if you prefer not to think about anything approaching troubling, then by all means there are plenty more shows out there for you.

Addressing mental ill health and its exacerbation by old-fashioned notions of masculinity which supress emotional engagement and public discussion, Gadd sets up this visceral confessional within the context of a fictional Man’s Man competition. To that end, he performs the entire endeavour running breathlessly on a treadmill while mercilessly ripping into himself and his very human foibles.

A somewhat herculean task, much of his dialogue is pre-recorded, designed to illustrate the noisy self-doubt clamouring inside his head, depicted in video form by an ape that literally beats Gadd up at the start. The monkey on his back screeches whenever the repressed memory at the show’s heart arises and this internal dialogue second-guesses everything he says, with crippling awkwardness sabotaging social situations inherently funny even as they cause audiences to audibly groan at their cringe-worthiness. All the while, Gadd’s increasingly sweaty facial expressions speak a thousand words.

Much of it is, indeed, deeply funny, though occasionally the laughter that ensues leaves you gasping on the very edge of propriety. That fine line is a very smart place for any comedian who is willing to challenge the form to hold their audience.

From video of Gadd projectile vomiting with nerves to confronting audio of his real-life therapy sessions mouthed by upside down chin faces with googly eyes, Gadd is prepared to go there, and judging by the reaction of the audience I saw Monkey See Monkey Do with, they’re on board with his wilful blurring of readily accepted stand-up lines.

Wouldn’t it be rather dull if comedians weren’t allowed to tackle on the nose topics? There’s surely room for more than one vision of what comedy can do and Gadd’s confessional is, I think, a triumph of the art form.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★★1/2

Book tickets to see Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey Do at MICF here.