Writer: David Baddiel
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Tonight The Lowry could be the setting for an awkward encounter. Back when comedy was said to be the new rock’n’roll David Baddiel and Rob Rob Newman were the first comedy duo to sell out arenas . But the partnership did not end on friendly terms and tonight both of them are performing at The Lowry. When Baddiel makes passing reference to the partnership it is typical of the tone for My Family: Not the Sitcom that his remarks are truthful but gracious.
Truth and grace are vital elements in Baddiel’s show as it covers topics that many people might think are not suitable subjects for comedy- encroaching illness, infidelity, dysfunctional relatives and moral policing on social media. The manner in which Baddiel reveals that his father, Colin, is suffering from an aggressive form of dementia actually seems unsympathetic. The symptoms of the illness- excessive swearing, mood swings and aggression – are , explains Baddiel, so characteristic of his father that the diagnosis is closer to a description.
Baddiel links the eccentric and, frankly, weird side of his family to the wider theme of how truth does not conform to social boundaries. The focus of My Family: Not the Sitcom is Baddiel’s late mother, Sarah, a woman so incapable of observing boundaries that she revealed, in passing and on-camera, that her father coped with his wife’s lack of interest in sex by employing prostitutes. Sarah not only had a decades-long extramarital affair she was so indiscreet that she littered the house with clues about her infidelity, invited her lover to family gatherings and even copied her sons into e-mails sent to him.
Baddiel’s show has been around for some time but has only now reached the regions. Since its inception, there has been a bit of a backlash against comedians who use their personal life crisis as the basis for their material. Stewart Lee in particular, has expressed mock sympathy for his peers who turn their personal pain into their acts. Baddiel tackles this criticism head-on making the show into a tribute to the way in which his mother embraced the richness of life. Rather than emphasise the traumatic effect of his mother’s affair Baddiel takes an affectionate if baffled approach. This cannot be easy as he shares the first name of Sarah’s lover and she was given to shouting it aloud during orgasm. By the time he reached his teens, Baddiel says, he knew better than to reply.
My Family: Not the Sitcom is not conventional stand up. The stage looks like it has been set up for a play with walls papered as in a family home and decorated with framed photographs. Extensive use is made of filmed excerpts from Baddiel’s televisions shows but for once this does not feel like cheating as his hilarious commentary makes the clips an essential part of the live show.
My Family: Not the Sitcom is so carefully constructed that it resembles a novel in the way that links are made between points raised at an earlier stage. Baddiel reveals the authorities in Nazi Germany specified the names that Jewish parents could give their children so that ‘Sarah’ was not actually his mother’s name. He later discloses the name on her birth certificate meant’ pious ‘and encourages the audience to share his sense of victory at the way Sarah’s lifestyle mocked her oppressors.
Baddiel opens the show by ruminating on how social media has made people hyper-sensitive and liable to take offence even where none is intended. My Family: Not the Sitcom is Baddiel’s response – a warm, affectionate and perceptive look at how occasionally risking causing offence allows one to experience the richness of life and is a moving tribute to his parents.
Reviewed on Sunday 4th March 2018 | Image: Contributed