Friday, 25 February 2011
Micky Flanagan @ The Churchill Theatre, Bromley
There couldn’t have been a better fit for Micky Flanagan’s East End boy-made-good routine than the slightly run down Churchill Theatre in Bromley. A south east London commuter town, its population largely consists of formerly working class people who’ve got together enough money to have a garden and send their kids to a nice school. Those in the audience know only too well the pitfalls of middle class living, and as Flanagan describes the social etiquette involved in everyday tasks such as shopping and saying hello to your neighbours there are plenty of wry smiles alongside the laughs.
Like many good comedians, Flanagan’s routine is about being a fish out of water. Not just in terms of being a Cockney who’s now expected to buy artisan bread, but also as a middle-aged man, a father and a husband. He admits to feeling lost a lot of the time, but it's this that makes him such an engaging on-stage figure. This outsider perspective has made him a keen observer, and it becomes clear that he gets a lot of material simply from watching people. There's a whole routine about the joys of peeping round curtains that manages to be universal but also unique to his sense of alienation. Another anecdote involves him watching the middle classes’ behaviour in his local supermarket; buying up the spaghetti carbonara while the working classes count themselves lucky to get a tin of alphabetti spaghetti. As he speaks you can imagine him stalking the aisles, learning from their alien behaviour like David Attenborough examining a gazelle.
He needn’t feel awkward though; the audience tonight couldn’t be further from viewing him as a cocky intruder. There's plenty of warmth directed at him from the get-go, and a cheer goes up as he admits that the level of success he’s achieved has lined his pockets nicely. His cheekiness is what people are attracted to, and as he smiles like a schoolboy up to no good; you can’t help but want him to succeed.
Tales of his East End childhood punctuate the set. Stories about his dad ‘Jimmy the Fish’ (a porter at Billingsgate market) as an opportunistic thief and old school husband hit the spot; especially an anecdote about him stealing a van full of hoovers and filling their tiny flat with them. His mum is also a recurring figure, a ghost of a way of life that his own son will never know. The image of her with a fag on, talking to her sisters about the menopause in the kitchen is so well described that it’s like she’s there on stage too.
But it's when Flanagan begins discussing relationships that the laughs really flow. “My wife and me are perfect for each other,” he says. “Because she loves multi-tasking and I like doing fuck all.” And somehow he gets away with it. Later in the set he analyses Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ to show how it presents the cracks in an apparently loving relationship – it's an old routine, but one that still has legs.
The encore sees him doing two routines that have become pretty recognisable and visibly suffer because of it. His schtick about how teenagers are obsessed with fried chicken falls a little flat and his ‘Out Out’ routine, which has recently been pilfered for a 118 advert, also suffers from overexposure. The gag is about how British people have different levels of being on the town – popped out (going to the shops), out (down the pub) and out-out (a night in a club). It's a great observational joke, which is why it’s a shame that most of the crowd already know the punch line. “I have to do it,” says Flanagan, looking a little weary. “It’s the name of the tour, and it’s practically in the contract.” He just about pulls it off though – mainly because he hasn’t yet reached Michael McIntyre levels of ubiquity. And also because of that cheeky grin.