In the latest series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle on BBC Two, the comedian took to task those comics who mine personal grief to create potentially award-winning stand-up shows. “Everyone’s dad dies,” he said, mock-wearily of those pouring their hearts out on stage. “Everyone dies.”
The practice, it has to said, is growing a little old. Not that this has put off David Baddiel. His mother died two years. His father now has Pick’s Disease, an aggressive form of Alzheimer’s. Here, then, is Baddiel’s highly personal show about his parents.
The key part of that previous sentence is “about his parents”. Avoiding the obvious pitfall – and presumably Lee’s scorn – Baddiel has created a warm, enjoyably ramshackle and, curiously, very rude show about his mother and father. Not about him. Not about how his mother’s death and father’s disease have affected Baddiel the son. But about them. It is, thank goodness, a celebration of life rather than a drawn-out navel-gaze about death.
The first half deals largely with Baddiel’s mother, Sarah (whom her parents were forced by the Nazis to christen Frommet), a tremendous presence, whether in anecdote or appearing via projection hogging the limelight in Who Do You Think You Are? or gate-crashing an episode of Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned.
In what must work marvellously as therapy, Baddiel gets much material out of his mother’s long affair with a golf enthusiast. Rather than hide signs of infidelity, Sarah’s response is to become a golfing memorabilia obsessive.
Making excellent use of family drawings (the pipe smoking a pipe being a surreally brilliant highlight), his mother’s irrational use of inverted commas and her sweetly on-the-nose erotic poetry, Baddiel gleefully tips private family memories out onto the stage in a manner you feel his mother might have approved of. He occasionally references how offensive or disrespectful the material might seem, but there’s affection in every line.
In the latter half, he talks of his father, whom, Baddiel tells us, illness has turned into a “Spitting Image puppet of himself”. Already rude and cantankerous, now he is merely more so.
The whimsical material on his dad’s walrus-like carnal grunts, and worrying about his own possible dementia, slip all too easily down the gentle observational comedy route, but Baddiel leavens it with strong riffs about a man who flicks the V’s at nurses and gets evicted from care homes for fighting. A certain, understandable, son’s pride is taken in these moments.
There’s a strained effort to tie the whole thing up neatly with ideas of truth, memory and a sense of self – and the slideshow-heavy intro about his celebrity Twitter exploits and social media trolls feels as a lazy as it does behind the curve.
Plus it’s not needed. His parents lives, as he describes them, were joyously impossible to define. When Baddiel forgets the shrink’s-couch speech and embraces the chaos, it’s a show that bubbles with love and unexpected joie de vivre.
'David Baddiel – My Family: Not the Sitcom' is at Menier Chocolate Factory until 25 June.
For tickets, visit here