King of the Geeks brings his Feral Man show to the Black Box, with support from Marcus Keeley
Marcus Keeley creeps towards the stage like he is playing Grandma’s footsteps and hasn’t told anybody else, with his furtive glances to the audience, and quick, sly smiles. While this happens, the Black Box’s cinema flickers with kinetic images of erotically charged furniture in all the positions.
When Keeley finally makes it to the stage, and after the usual precision fiddling with the mic-stand, he blasts us with a volley of jokes peppered with tuts and heavy sighs. His is the comedy of gesture and despair. He pushes into the crowd with an inflatable marigold glove, that familiar tick of a smile, like Alex DeLarge, looking for an assistant for his 'performance poetry' piece.
That he smoothes the glove over the man’s head before screaming his 'poem' in his face seems appropriate; audience interaction is all about embarrassment, of ruptured intimacy. It is, as Keeley says at the outset, a response to an 'inability to fill the gaping maw of my life'. And yet it is funny.
I don’t know why his time-stretched Sunday roast advert makes me laugh so much, but somewhere at the heart of its chainsaw noises and slow motion gurning is a splinter of pure comedy gold. Better still is the short film he screens where a blind date with a garden gnome leads to a terrible betrayal.
Lorcan McGrane appears next with a home-manufactured head set in the manner of a TED talk because, he jokes, 'isn’t it great to be white, middle-class and wearing khakis'. 'I’m originally from Monaghan,' he says. 'In fact I still am.'
This is certainly evident from McGrane's hour-long set, which deals with two main topics: McGrane’s interaction with life in rural Ireland and what he does when, suddenly, fantastically, he finds himself alone.
In the interim period he compets with the aggressively surly Black Box coffee machine. Who is buying coffee at a comedy gig? It seems so antipathetic – a decent human being should always be mildly drunk and empathetic at a comedy gig, not sharp and focussed.
McGrane does well to carry the audience, his only geek in the village persona working beautifully for Belfast crowd. And being a proud geek, there is an audio/visual element to his performance as he takes us on a whistle stop tour of his favourite places: provincial night-clubs, where, being 37, 'no one speaks to you. Young people see you as a kind of gas.'
Or he’s off to the cinema on his own: 'I saw Watchmen three or four times. Who watches the Watchmen? I do. Three or four times.' There’s even time for a quick sojourn to Paris, though he’s quick to point out that his 'Paris' is a night-club in Bundoran.
McGrane's material is an endless stream of embarrassments, disappointments and boredoms. This show could be subtitled 'The adventures (though that seems a rather generous term) of an over-educated, underemployed man attempting to wrestle some meaning from his life'. That his 37th birthday was spent boozelessly playing scrabble with a nun, and that it was by no means his worst birthday, is the measure of the man.
He has an appetite for distraction and get’s side-tracked into peculiar obsessions: a well-thumbed copy of Brenda Love’s Book of Unusual Sexual Practices (featuring contributions from a Dr. Flash Gordon), for example, or the art of alien abductees. McGrane concludes, soberly, that aliens will never abduct anyone who can draw.
It is the conclusion of the show, the 'Feral Man' finale, that displays McGrane’s finest comic concoctions. All the humorous veins threading through the show flow towards this heart of dorkness. It is clever, crude, achingly provincial yet utterly worldly, and displays tremendous compositional skill.
Only now do we see the real shape of his art, see the design of what he has made. The applause rings in his ears as he leaves the stage to hand out the certificates we have won for completing his feral man course. He is still there handing them out when the applause has died away, dogged and dignified. Maybe it's not an act after all.
Visit the Black Box website for information on forthcoming comedy shows.