David Baddiel’s My Family: Not the Sitcom, Menier Chocolate Factory, comedy review: ‘Reprehensibly funny’
It bugs David Baddiel that when family members die, or are lost to dementia, we tend to chorus that they were “wonderful” and, in that evasive generalisation, dilute their individuality. Any true attempt to preserve their memory, he argues, would involve summoning up “their weirdnesses, their madnesses, and their flaws”. In his new stand-up show, which he describes as “a twisted love letter” to his Jewish parents, Baddiel mounts a celebration that is determinedly devoid of any sanitising circumlocutions or respectful restraint.
The 51 year old comedian draws on photographs, emails, film footage and manuscripts as he evokes their unruly lives. His mother Sarah, whose family escaped Nazi Germany for Britain when she was five months old, died a couple of years ago. His Welsh-born research-chemist father, Colin, has a form of frontal-lobe dementia whose symptoms are sexual disinhibition, rudeness, swearing and irritability. When the doctors explained these to David, he said “Sorry, does he have a disease, or have you just met him?”
Baddiel’s reprehensibly funny and rightly uncomfortable show is designed as a riposte to our over-policed culture where knee-jerk offence-takers will pounce on any attempt to play around with the taboos in this area. How culpably, though, does he invade his parents’ privacy? The Baddiel children knew of their mother’s long, passionate affair with a golfing memorabilia salesman. A compulsive attention-seeker, Sarah couldn’t stop talking about it: “Dollis Hill’s very own Erica Jong”. There’s a hilarious account (with photographs) of her obsession with the man and the way it led to her demonstrating her love by founding a (oops, rival) golfing memorabilia business of her own. Same name (“Golfiana”) too, farcically. What Baddiel now prizes is his mother’s defiant lack of shame and it’s in that spirit that he offers us glimpses of her incompetent but very explicit erotic verses and of a saucily suggestive email sent to her lover when she had both leukemia and Crohn’s disease. Weirdly, she copied both David and his older brother into this message.
“The truth will not conform to boundaries.” This is demonstrated twice in relation to his dad. Once when reassuring footage of a calm Jewish day care centre is followed by the news that Colin was banned from it for hitting someone shortly after. And then when a disarming moment from a documentary reminds Baddiel of the loving father and the characteristics quite distinct from those now cruelly parodied in his dementia.
To 25 June; 020 7378 1713