Alan Davies is crucial to the success of QI. On the brilliant BBC panel show, the Essex-born actor and comedian is earthy, endearing and insightful when he wants to be. But take him out of his role as Stephen Fry’s stooge and plonk him in a theatre in front of a thousand-odd people, and, on tonight’s evidence, he’s quite uninteresting.
Davies seems either easily distracted or already bored of this comeback stand-up set, his first foray into live comedy since 2000. Tonight’s Belfast date, at a near-sold-out Grand Opera House, comes towards the beginning of a lengthy tour, which doesn’t bode well for, say, Leicester next February.
The comic spends as much time chatting with the crowd as he does delivering his material. Due to the star curtain behind him and debris falling from the ceiling, Davies deems it ‘by far the most peculiar show on the tour’. After half an hour of false starts, this reviewer is just waiting for someone to shout, ‘Get on with it!’
Though it’s no great reprieve when Davies does stick to the script. It’s not just his trademark hairstyle that’s floppy – his observations are fairly limp, too.
You might expect him to discuss the tabloid row that erupted over some ill-advised comments he made earlier this year about the Hillsborough disaster. Or to give us some behind-the-scenes banter about QI. But, no. It’s mostly befuddled middle-aged man territory, a mixture of reminiscences of his student days and trying to get to grips with what the likes of Facebook, mobile phones and plastic surgery.
Sure, Davies is 46 and no longer an angry young man, but George Carlin wrote some of his best and most incisive work in his 60s.
There are successes, including a joke about the Essex vocabulary (‘Basically… literally… effectively… seriously'), and a nice line about a gay cruising spot: ’Men kept appearing like the shopkeeper from Mr Benn.’ He talks briefly about QI, and says he hears the show’s incorrect-answer klaxon in his sleep. ‘Even my dreams are wrong,’ he deadpans.
Contentious content-wise, Davies makes a few throwaway remarks about feminism, child abuse and disability that might upset the easily ruffled, but Frankie Boyle needn’t lose any sleep.
As we near the end, proceedings take an odd turn when a woman in the front row shouts up, ‘You haven’t said anything about Jimmy Savile!’ Davies seems perplexed that he would have been expected to – to be fair, he’s not a topical comedian – but he gives it a shot. ‘Picture the scene,’ he shrugs. ‘It’s a mental ward in the ’70s. I’ve got the keys to all the rooms and an erection…’
It’s not especially funny, but at least it has some nerve. Davies’s show is called Life is Pain, but there’s little to live up to that title here. The QI man remains an amiable presence, but until he pens some stronger gags he should perhaps stay sitting down.
Visit the Grand Opera House website for information on forthcoming comedy shows.