The cerebral comic is always entertaining, whether singing about airships or making misogyny funny
‘Expect the unexpected and you’ll be disappointed most of the time,’ says cult comic Simon Munnery near the start of this Black Box gig.
Taking to the stage wearing a mask of the Queen, producing bubbles out of a top hat and singing songs about 1930s airships, Munnery certainly isn’t what you might expect. Nor is the fight that breaks out in the crowd about 10 minutes in.
At first, it appears someone is accusing Munnery of being 'orange' and illegitimate, and it looks as if things might get nasty, or at least interesting. But it quickly becomes apparent that the fracas simply involves two blokes who have been drinking heavily all day (as you do before a midweek comedy gig).
Munnery wonders if it is his ‘controversial material about the R101’ that has sparked the row. Then, as the troublemakers are being jostled out, he remarks, ‘There’s a workshop going on back there.’
Being able to keep the wisecracks coming despite the threat of imminent violence is a sign of a brave performer. Or at least one that has been churning out absurdist ditties on a miniature guitar for so long that reality barely intrudes.
Yobs ejected, the show continues. Resembling the wilfully eccentric English teacher whose classes you always looked forward to, Munnery throws in something of everything: songs, monologues, poems, puns, anecdotes, aphorisms and character pieces. There is even a gonzo cardboard animation scene mounted beneath a proscenium arch.
It can be hit-or-miss. Even within a two-minute bit about Bruce Springsteen, Munnery’s schtick ranges from the inspired (‘When he’s not lifting crates at the dock he’s getting laid off at the refinery’) to the hackneyed (‘'Born in the USA' – is that something to take pride in?’). But when he’s on a roll, there is no funnier comic.
A line like, ‘There is a better sport than javelin – discus,’ shouldn’t work when delivered in a playground let alone by a 45-year-old with nigh on a quarter of a century’s professional comedy experience. But it does.
Even when talking about literal meanings of place names, Munnery manages to get away with a dreadful pun on Belfast (‘Or as I call it, “DING!”’) and a smutty reference to visiting Horfield (‘I was disappointed’).
Tonight’s highlight, though, is Munnery’s wordy, Ronnie Barker-esque spiel about feminism, given in the guise of a chauvinistic academic. ‘Does pornography degrade women or merely raise the standard by which they are judged?’ the bumptious persona enquires. ‘A woman’s work is never done, to which I would add only one word – properly.’ A few female audience members seem mildly offended, but it’s their loss.
As the evening winds down, Munnery invites us to buy his DVD and book (‘Twenty years of jokes, seven minutes to read. What a life’) and closes with a song about Bob Dylan. The Londoner remains one of Britain’s most consistently entertaining comics, and definitely its most inventive. Sometimes even the unexpected defies expectations.