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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sarah Millican: Bobby Dazzler, review: blunt, breezy gags about bodily fluids

Sarah Millican left me breathless and clutching my sides, though not with laughter. There’s a fair chance she’s done the same for you, even if you’ve never seen her on a panel show. If you were among the hundreds of thousands who downloaded the Couch to 5k fitness app in the throes of lockdown, you may have heard her cooing “keep going, petal!” in your earphones, urging you to jog on a bit further up that hill.

It’s a soothing voice: a light, fluting South Shields chirrup. But its effects don’t work on everyone. When Millican tried the app, she was soon telling herself to eff off, as she relates in her new touring show Bobby Dazzler. That voice is an essential part of her schtick. Her comedy is built on the gap between the butter-wouldn’t-melt sweetness of her delivery and the pungent grot of what she’s actually saying.

Millican’s subject – her only subject – is the body. It’s tempting to talk about “body positivity” here, given her cheerful rejection of unrealistic ideals about weight. “Thigh gap! Gap? Gap? Gap?” she gasps, with the incredulous tone of Peter Kay encountering a piece of garlic bread. “I barely have a f—ing knee gap.” When a friend compliments her taut skin and asks if she’s had fillers, she replies: “Yes, cakes and pies.”

But “body-negative” is more accurate here. Bobby Dazzler, if it’s about anything, is about all the ways our bodies let us down: worsening eyes and swollen knees; messy sex and wilting libidos; her alternative list of “seven signs of ageing”. We’re never more than a few minutes away from another detailed account of her bowel movements. The litany of twee muck becomes monotonous, particularly as her unhurried, breezy delivery keeps the whole show stuck in the same gear.

Occasionally, she summons a very sharp turn of phrase or memorable image; lying supine, naked, she ends up with “a chinful of t–s”, each breast like “a carrier bag full of bread buns”. Millican is a good enough jokesmith to know it’s inherently funny to end a punchline on “Twix” (as she does more than once). More usually, though, she’s just blunt. “I occasionally suffer from piles – how I know if they’re bad is my farts sound different,” is, unfortunately, a characteristic line.

The suffocatingly English world of her stand-up is close to that of Alan Bennett or Victoria Wood. She laments the declining quality of M&S pyjamas; she fondly recalls her annual birthday trip for “chips in a bowl” at Fenwick’s; one day, she plucks up the courage to add a papaya to her online food shop. (“I half expected the app to go ‘oooohhh.’”) But while Wood and Bennett found a kind of poetry in the banal by honing in on granular detail, Millican more often falls back on a four-letter word to get an easy laugh.

Reviewers weren’t invited to this tour, but she doesn’t need them. The rapturous reception in a packed-to-the-rafters Apollo suggests it’s critic-proof. Perhaps, as a twentysomething chap, I’m just not the target audience for observational bits about the correlation between heavy menstrual flow and diarrhoea. Still, I wish she’d branch out into something else.

In the very last two minutes of this set, she does. Millican claims she’d planned a recorder recital, but forgot to bring her recorder, so hoots the notes of Three Blind Mice instead. It’s a very funny bit, partly because it’s so unexpected – like one of those rare Al Murray gigs when he drops his Pub Landlord persona and does a set of near-wordless artillery impressions. It’s a reminder that Millican’s voice is a striking comic instrument – but she needs to try some new tunes.

Touring until Dec 18, 2022; sarahmillican.co.uk

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