Dylan Moran: Off the Hook

Dylan Moran is a bastion of British comedy. He’s fiercely Irish and he reminds us of that several times as he drinks slowly but steadily through the show. “I’ve given up smoking though,” he says halfway through the show, which prompts him to talk about how he’s replaced smoking with eating. “My wife came up to me as I was casually eating something twice my size… aargh! You made me drop my elk!”

He begins by talking about Canberra. Most comedians I have seen try to say a few sentences about the town they are visiting at the beginning of their shows but few succeed at making it past a few minutes. Moran, however, was well-versed in our political situation and knew how to needle Canberrans enough so they would laugh but not enough that we wouldn’t like it. He thanked us for coming to our show and then paused. “Well, it is a Saturday night in Canberra,” he drawled. “What else are you going to do?” His comments on our prime minister are also well-received. “You need to be nicer to Tony! He knows things that you don’t know.” The audience is well aware a joke is coming and they aren’t disappointed. “Tony Abbott knows that climate change is caused by lesbians and that’s why you don’t have same sex marriage.”

Known most famously for his role as Bernard Black on the television series Black Books, it is safe to say that there are elements of the real Moran in the character, which Moran has admitted to other interviewers. He starred in the show with Bill Bailey, who toured in Canberra last October, and Tamsin Greig. The difference between Moran and Bailey’s stand up comedy is vast, though they are both extremely funny men. Bailey is polished and has long intricate stories filled with descriptive detail, whilst Moran often has to pause to collect his thoughts because it’s as though his mouth is talking too fast for his head to follow. He prefers to go off on impromptu tangents and occasionally trips over his words but to me, these are the signs of an adaptable intelligent mind perhaps bemoaning the slowness of the body to follow. Even though he is only 43, much of his comedy centres around the perils of middle age and his realisation of what a lifetime of drinking, eating and smoking has done to his body.

The audience is constantly delighted. It is safe to assume that most of the audience is familiar with Moran’s work so it is a nice surprise when the show is softer than previous tours; Moran focuses on family and relationships, obesity and weight gain, and the ravages of age and raising children instead of his usual acerbic torrents on current affairs and our place in the world. There is very little talk of politics or religion. There is still the characteristic Moran spark though; the audience roars when he tells an absent Donald Trump to remove the orangutan’s vagina from his head and then fuck off in a rocket to outer space. In this respect, insults from Moran are almost a mark of respect. He disparagingly calls us “hot fleas in the gulping dark, all of you” and we all laugh despite the fact that it makes little sense. Are we, the audience, sucking out his comedic lifeblood? But this is another part of Moran’s delightful comedy – fantastical wordplay. Like his character on Black Books, Moran is well read and has an extensive vocabulary but a penchant for using silly words to describe normal situations. His reproachful remarks are tempered by amusing quibbles and trivial observations using extraordinary and unexpected words.

Research by A.P. Nilsen and D.L.F. Nilsen has found that satisfaction and good feelings are more likely to be expressed with a smile, whilst laughter is more likely to be associated with surprise or the recognition of incongruity. And Moran’s comedy is definitely surprising. He is known not only for passionate rants but for random word associations. He has the ability to make fully rehearsed scenes feel off the cuff and to fill impromptu rants with complex dissertations on life, love and Nutella snowshoes nonsense. Discos are places for spangly lights and growing old is like having your mind become the top floor of a slumlord’s crumbling apartment block whilst you walk back and forth peering out your window-eyes. At the end though, the audience is thrilled and satisfied; Moran’s humorous treatises on health and family issues known to most of us leaves us gleeful that first of all that the famous suffer too, just as much if not more, and knowing that it is very possible to find humour in just about any situation.