Former presenter of The Word draws on Catholic upbringing with mixed results at Out To Lunch
It’s a tough gig, the afternoon set of the Out To Lunch arts festival in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, particularly for the stand-up comedian.
Today is no exception. Without the comfort blanket of an alcoholically lubricated evening crowd, broadcaster and self-proclaimed ‘bloke’ Terry Christian has much to prove.
Best known for presenting The Word, the anarchic Channel 4 series that defined post-pub viewing in the early 1990s, Naked Confessions of a Recovering Catholic is Christian’s first full stand-up set. Sadly, it shows.
Following a solemn entrance in full Monsignor regalia, Christian attempts some ecumenical humour – which is old hat to this Belfast audience – featuring some old-school groaners reminiscent of a family gathering. But then it’s a mixed crowd in the Black Box, a combination of culture vultures in on spec, settled ravers and Stuart Lee fans. Christian has his work cut out.
As the show progresses, his demeanour reminds one of an uncle who attempts to ingratiate himself with his cool teenage nephews and nieces: familiar, conspiratorial and self-depreciating. However, Christian's approachable and charming stage presence is marred by a crucial lack of focus and experience.
There are three distinct threads running through the show: Christian’s Irish-Mancunian background, the perils of a Catholic education and his struggles against the ‘Tarquins & Tristians’ of the privileged media mafia. Any one of these subjects might have made a show in its own right, but there is too much going on here.
The show’s central conceit is the Roman Catholic philosophy of ‘in mind, in deed’ – the idea that, in God’s eyes, if you’ve thought about it, it’s as bad as having actually done it. Christian gets some mileage from the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ nature of the Catholic doctrine, but you get the impression that the audience have heard it all before.
It’s when Christian moves into clichéd paedophile priest jokes that the audience become visibly nervous, and not because of the subject matter – the uncomfortable nudging and winking demeans the subject.
This comes to a head in the last third of the show when, as Christian recounts his life in Manchester’s top Catholic grammar school, he decrys one of the teachers as a ‘child rapist’. It's a bold and shocking declaration – a remarkable piece of condemnation – that seems to be the culmination of his bitterness towards the Catholic education system.
But Christian refuses to hide behind what he calls ‘weasel words’. He then descends into teenage innuendo and a fluffed punchline about grooming and train sets. He all but apologises before the delivery. It's clear that Terry Christian is far too nice to hit as hard as he’d like.
He is a likable and engaging character on stage, which makes this show not entirely a waste of time, but stand-up is not his forte. The last 15 minutes of the show deal with his time on The Word and the heady days of Madchester, and it’s here, on familiar ground, that Christian finally seems comfortable.
There is an argument to be made for Christian tailoring this show into more of a spoken word performance, a Q&A that plays to his strengths – his charm, the improvisation skills he learned from years of presenting live TV, the wealth of celebrity anecdotes he has built up over the years.
But in terms of sustaining a comedy show, Christian lacks the polish, the practice and, sadly, the material. It’s a brave attempt, and not without its enjoyable moments, but when taken purely in the context of a piece of stand-up, it is, presumably, not the most satisfying thing on this year's Out To Lunch menu.
Out To Lunch continues in the Black Box, Belfast until January 26.