Rob Brydon doesn’t just entertain a crowd – he woos them. At one point in his new stand-up show, the relentlessly affable Welsh comic actually began serenading a lady in the front row.
Coming from any other performer, the line “How lovely it is to be here in Royal Tunbridge Wells” might sound hollow. But Brydon used it to launch a well-observed and affectionate tribute to the local character: less smug than the overachievers of Sevenoaks, less threatening than those un-Royal yobs over in Tonbridge.
The 51-year-old’s latest show is supposedly about ageing, but here he got his observations about middle-age out of the way quickly, and spent the rest of his time toying with the crowd. He picked on people (one Spanish couple got a solid 20 minutes), but did so with such weapons-grade charm it was impossible to feel sorry for them. By the end, he was improvising songs about their lives.
This was irresistible light entertainment. Brydon’s fans will take a certain comfort in knowing there’s nothing to surprise them here. He sings. He takes requests. He tells an anecdote about his Gavin & Stacey co-star James Corden. He even does his famous “small man in a box” voice. It’s all the comic equivalent of a nice warm shepherd’s pie.
Brydon is a gifted impressionist in the way that Tommy Cooper was a gifted magician. Beneath the cheese and mock-incompetence there’s a serious talent at work. His usual retinue of characters are all on show: Ronnie Corbett, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton (the last two are interchangeable). Later, we hear the same analysis of Old Michael Caine vs Young Michael Caine that he wheeled out to annoy Steve Coogan on his masterful, tragi-comic sitcom The Trip.
Fans of that show might wish the Alan Partridge star were present here: he’s such a perfect, cynical foil to the bubblier Brydon. Luckily, we have the next best thing – Brydon’s impression of Coogan. It’s cartoonish, cruel and extraordinarily funny. Coogan hates it.
But cruelty isn’t really his thing. Tellingly, one section of this show involves a luvvie-ish anecdote about meeting Paul McCartney while hanging out with Coogan. In a characteristic act of generosity, he gives Coogan all the best lines.
In this increasingly uncertain world, you always know where you are with Brydon. His warm, reassuring persona makes him catnip to TV advertisers. In person, it’s like being sat beside a roaring log fire. He left the good people of Tunbridge Wells anything but disgusted.
Touring until March 25; tickets: robbrydon.com