Theatre Review: Death of a Comedian - Peacock Theatre, Dublin


Owen McCafferty’s new play is structurally inspired, but in crucial aspects, alas, deficient. Brian Doherty plays Steve Johnston, who is a Ramones-T-shirt-wearing, no-holds-barred, angry political comic. But he’s also keen to ‘make it’ and soon falls under the spell of an agent bent on turning him into the next Michael MacIntyre.

We follow Johntson’s descent into artistic bankruptcy through the various, increasingly sanitised versions of his act that are performed for us, punctuated by dramatic scenes involving his supportive, idealistic girlfriend, Maggie (Katie McGuinness), and his gleefully cynical agent, Doug (Shaun Dingwall).

To repeat: a neat idea. But it works better in theory than on stage, with two fatal flaws killing much of its dramatic promise.

For one, the play is too short. At 75 minutes, and with hefty chunks given over to repetitive stand-up routines, characterisation and plot development are merely footnotes.

A bigger problem, given the heavy-lifting they must do, is that the comic routines are not funny enough. The scene changes take us to bigger stages, and blander routines, but McCafferty fails to convince us that what Johnston has left behind is of any worth: “All politicians are c****”; “Breakfast presenters, what the f**k is going on there?” — it really doesn’t get any better than that. Early Johnston is no Bill Hicks.

McCafferty also undervalues the likes of MacIntyre and Peter Kay, forgetting that the key to observational comedy is in the tiny, true details.

Johnston’s jokes are in broad brush strokes. His mainstream routine has the correct, tired subject matter — bickering couples, budget airline travel, the absurdities of the gym (the dross of modern life, in other words) — but McCafferty doesn’t have enough respect to see that even this takes craft. It’s hard to depict the death of a comedian when we can’t see that he’s alive in the first place, which is a shame, because the excellent Doherty has invested so much in the part. If only he’d had a decent gag writer.


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