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Dylan Moran’s matchstick cathedrals of despair

Dylan Moran’s matchstick cathedrals of despair

By Ethan Tucker

Review: Dylan Moran, Comedian, Opera House, Wellington, 22 April 2006

Carpet-bagging Irish comedian Dylan Moran plied his trade in Wellington on Saturday night as a part of his lightning raid on the Antipodes. The Opera House showed no discernable sign that he was to perform inside to an eager, sell-out crowd – but hey, why waste money on posters when you don’t have to? This was stealth stand-up par excellence.

Moran’s famed lack of enthusiasm for interviews was deployed to full effect before and during the tour, which is a curiously effective promotion technique. Every column and TV spot framed itself around his legendary disinterest in rampant self-promotion. Perhaps this is a deft ruse to pique the curiosity of media types, because nothing intrigues them more than a celeb who won’t play the fame game. Or, more likely, it’s just a happy coincidence that Moran can generate column inches by simply being honest about the sheer tedium of the hacks’ ceaselessly repetitive prodding.

Onstage, Moran is not your typical Irish comedian. He’s not out to spin charming anecdotes or win adoration. Ruffling his unkempt mop of hair and ambling about the stage, he works hard to maintain a deft flow of observational humour, spiced with Pythonesque imagery and a droll ability to find humour in a bleak and pessimistic outlook.

It’s refreshing to see a comedian who really can’t be bothered patronising his audience by fawning over the wonderfulness of the New Zealand countryside. Moran is open about knowing little of New Zealand, and indeed relishes informing the audience of the fact, lambasting the nation for being so far away from everything in the civilised world, and producing no-one of note in our entire history.

In response, one foolish middle-aged audience member shouts ‘what about Colin Meads?’, sending a collective shudder of embarrassment through the audience. (For the record, Mr Audience Member, no-one cares about Colin Meads anymore). Fortunately Moran couldn’t care less, preferring to skewer another tediously recidivist heckler, a drunken and incoherent Irish audience member who he denounced as being ‘continually surprised by the direct light of the sun in the morning’.

The audience enjoyed Moran’s stream of consciousness rambling, saving its biggest laughs for the carefully constructed ‘real jokes’ sprinkled through the set. On the subject of Irishness, he complains half-heartedly that his English friends would always view him and his fellow countrymen as ‘a cheery chap from the country with a pig under his arm coming over to wash your windows; keep an eye on your ladder just in case he pinches it’.

The scientists who invented Botox are harangued for failing to address scary world-threatening problems like cancer and Aids – instead, upon presenting the world with their new wrinkle-erasing head injection, they optimistically declaim, ‘well, at least you won’t look worried!’. And in illustrating how utterly inappropriate he would be for service in the SAS (motto: Death Before Dishonour), he outlines just how low he would stoop to avoid the Grim Reaper – ‘I’d fellate a Smurf’ – taking undignified self-preservation to dizzy new heights.

Adroit observations about the meaning of life and relationships form the majority of his entertaining set, punctuated with staccato pauses as he mentally rummages through his material, divining what that will get a reaction from the audience. Throughout, he artfully conjures scenes of relationships, consumerism, parenthood, addiction and loneliness (where one spends evenings building ‘matchstick castles of despair’).

The material is appealing, and earns plenty of laughs, but there’s no sense that Moran is inviting the audience into any real personal confidences. He does become animated when revealing his mild anxiety over not being able to smoke during his performance (‘it’s natural, smoking – give a chimp a cigarette, he’ll smoke it’). And he displays a gleeful enthusiasm in mocking the Fruit Police who nabbed his rogue luggage plum at Auckland Airport, mimicking a delighted pirouette of bureaucratic joy at the discovery of evil offending fruit, and the ensuing grovelling self-abasement to avoid prosecution. ‘Next time, I’ll leave the fruit at home. I’ll just bring the fruit-fly. Bushels of them’.

The end of the first and second half of the performance is signalled by a business-like glance at his wrist-watch to check the time. (Probably thinking, ‘is it time for a ciggie yet?’).

Moran even gets laughs from the brevity of his encore, likening the expectation for an encore in a comedy act to an office manager coming back to the hired help five minutes before the end of the day, saying ‘hey, remember that photocopying you did earlier? It was really great, wonderful stuff. Only we were wondering… would you mind hanging around and doing some more?’

No-one begrudged Moran his exit – he had delivered a fine performance. And he never mentions Black Books. Not once.


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