Radio 4 standups zoom through angst from all angles

Brian Logan
·3 min read

Netflix, Amazon Prime … Radio 4? It’s not just global content platforms carving up the standup market. Radio 4 has broadcast sets in recent years from Geoff Norcott, Lucy Porter and Tom Allen – and is kicking off 2021 with a clutch of new recordings. Of the three so far released, none will blaze for the station a new rep for pulse-quickening comedy. But they all reward a listen – and, at 28 minutes a pop, can be digested in the time it takes to (not) travel to work or knock up a socially isolated dinner.

None are live standup sets in the classic, room-full-of-laughing-people sense. Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s Egg-sistential Crisis and Imran Yusuf’s Relabelled are both performed to a live Zoom audience, the former with an added laughter track. It wouldn’t struggle for laughs in the real world: it’s a pert half hour, jaunty with an edge, exploring her generation’s – and her own – resistance to having children.

Like the Edinburgh shows that made Pritchard-McLean’s name (one of which, Appropriate Adult, is part-recycled here), Egg-sistential Crisis comes at that issue with journalistic zeal and earthy humour. She itemises the reasons millennials shrink from parenting (overpopulation, money, concerns about fertility), each one teeing up a story from her life, such as the time she tried to sell her eggs to fund university and the occasion her friend introduced her, for the first time, to the man in the moon.

That cues a routine about the pockets of embarrassing ignorance we carry into midlife – which in turn proves to Pritchard-McLean that she’s no less qualified to be a parent than anyone else. It brings the show to its resolution a bit too cutely, but when tackling huge generational and personal dilemmas in under 30 minutes, a certain superficiality is hard to avoid.

It’s a feature, too, of Relabelled – ostensibly an exploration of masculinity, but really a tour of Yusuf’s life, looked at through that lens. The commentary on gender roles amounts to little. Boys want to be strong, apparently, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes bad. To illustrate the argument, Yusuf deploys material old and new, weak and less so. We find him hero-worshipping Jackie Chan and joining a karate class – before the “scrawny kid” grows up, works in video games, and finds a belated sense of male self-worth.

Just as Pritchard-McLean resorts to cheap jokes about crap men, Yusuf’s stock in trade here is the “just kidding” sexist remark. “Of course,” he says, “some species have matriarchal societies. But the movie was still called Lion King though, innit? Hakuna matata, bitches. Get your own film!” There’s a lot of that. But there’s also a droll gag about the Schrödinger’s cat nature of male behaviour right now, when an action can be both chivalrous and chauvinistic – until the woman on the receiving end makes her feelings known.

Joz Norris’s A Small Talk on Small Talk is, as you’d expect from this graduate of the Weirdos comedy collective, the least conventional of the trio. It’s not a live performance; it’s a trip inside Norris’s head as he dramatises his phobia of superficial social interactions. Some material overlaps with his 2020 film You Build the Thing You Think You Are, and a very funny set piece about the mnemonic Thirty Days Hath September (released as a video last year) is revived, as Norris – a sort of absurdist Simon Amstell – worries at the question, “How can it be so hard to say something interesting about ourselves?” Seldom can half an hour have been so densely packed with meta comedy and existential angst.

BBC Radio 4’s Stand-Up Specials are available online.