Writer: David Baddiel
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Has social media made us a less permissive society? These days it seems that any tweet or post, however frivolous or ironic could provide a feast for trolls, or as David Baddiel calls them “social justice warriors”, keen to point out some pc transgression. These tools supposedly give every individual a voice but are we wrong to suppose that it has made us more accepting of other points of view or are we just more vigilant about bad taste?
Appropriate then that David Baddiel’s new stand-up show My Family: Not the Sitcom uses Twitter as a frame to discuss some very risqué material. Essentially using PowerPoint presentation, it opens with quite straightforward and mildly amusing examples of Baddiel’s own tweets and varying comedic responses they’ve received, arguing that it has become a medium for people’s outrage. What follows is his attempt to defy the naysayers with some utterly outrageous, but, he claims, entirely true stories, about his family that he hopes will shock the audience and provide some degree of catharsis for himself.
A lot of comedians use their parents or families as the bedrock of their comedy routines; Jack Whitehall has a TV show with his curmudgeonly father, Caitlin Moran has turned her early life into a sitcom, while Dawn French took to the London stage last autumn with her biographical stand-up show celebrating her mother. Steering clear of any overt sentiment, Baddiel focuses on the revelations of his relatively recently deceased mother’s decades-long affair which his father appeared not to notice, her brazen openness about her sexual escapades and her love of the spotlight.
And while none of this may sound funny, strangely it is, and as skeletons fall out of cupboards, Baddiel’s warmth and deep affection for his mother is clear. He plunders his adult life for stories – with accompanying clips – including his mother upstaging him on his TV show with Frank Skinner, on Who Do You Think You Are and in home videos while amazingly seeming unembarrassed and accepting of his mother’s double life.
The second half focuses a little more on Mr Baddiel Senior, suffering from a form of dementia which Baddiel claims has “turned him into a Spitting Image puppet of himself” in a rather vivid turn of phrase. Several anecdotes are called forth including a reluctance to invite his children’s friends over in the 70s in case they ate toast, and recollections of the sound of his parent’s sex life likened to “a wounded walrus”. It’s near the knuckle stuff that has half the audience in hysterics and the rest suppressing their inner outrage, which is almost certainly the reaction Baddiel is looking for.
Yet, these are his stories to tell and his show is certainly full of colourful tales that make for an enjoyable evening skirting everything from the nature of memory to the incorrect use of punctuation in emails. It’s not comedy for the faint hearted but it does push back firmly against the sense of conformity social media engenders. My Family: Not the Sitcom is full of “complicated truths”; riotous and unsentimental as it appears on the surface, it’s told with real affection for two of the most significant people in his life. And if that’s not reason enough to see it, there are cat videos.
Runs until 25 June 2016 | Image:Marc Brenner