Comedian David Baddiel’s ‘My Family’ shows how humour can be woven out of life’s tragedies
David Baddiel, football funny man, came back to the London scene last Autumn with a new comedy angle. Having recently had a few personal events which were somewhat mirthless, including the death of his mother and the diagnosis of his father with a particularly aggressive form of dementia, Baddiel then brought out ‘My Family’. Well, his family. In all their politically incorrect glory.
I went to the show very soon after a bereavement of my own, a little lost and pensive, craving escapism and perhaps even clarity. Escapism was smoothly delivered and then we went straight over into the realm of reflection. Baddiel centred the show largely on his mother, who passed away in 2014, and his father who has recently been diagnosed with Pick’s Disease, a form of dementia which causes personality changes which are particularly socially difficult. Humour is woven out of his highly sexual mother’s torrid and not at all covert affair with an inattentive golf enthusiast, his father’s dementia-addled obscenities at his mother’s funeral, and the loss, figuratively, of both his parents, with overwhelming candour. Baddiel appears, as ever, unrehearsed and off the cuff with brilliant comic timing. Thus, the show comes together as very slick but very natural. The intimate setting of the Vaudeville and Playhouse theatres respectfully augment this; it feels very personal and by extension very reflective.
We shy away from joking about the dead. It is disrespectful. It is crass. They are gone and they were good, kind, perfect. I’d disagree, and clearly, so did Baddiel – they were human. Loss and grief come in many forms, be it loss in the literal sense through death or parting, or in a wider philosophical sense; be it the loss of a relationship or the ability to form one because of disease, distance, or another form of removal of one’s presence. There is an awkwardness around loss and quite how to approach it, independent of the raw grief that often consumes the majority of initial gut reaction and thought. There is a difficulty in knowing quite how or what to remember, or what you are allowed to remember, an almost claustrophobic sincerity around you as the bereaved. Such boundaries around grief and sincerity constrict its expression, and can leave a person very lonely.
Thus came a revelation: we sanctify the dead, and yet in doing so we are perhaps not doing them justice. They were, and are, people – full bodied, warm and flawed, emblems of their personality scattered over their lives and by extension over our lives. Prior to that, we marginalise the ageing, stepping away respectfully from their very real problems and recalling largely their shiny youth. Again, it is human. It shall happen to us. What then becomes of who we are in the present? Are we only ever ourselves at our physical and cognitive best? There is a perception that mirth is inappropriate in tragedy, and of course there are boundaries of respect, but there is also an aspect of honesty. We are who we are, and grief is not made easier by persistently grieving for a saint we did not know. A lifting of the taboo against comedic dissections of our lives and more specifically our flaws, deep and disconcerting as they may be, does not mean we lose our love for the dead and gone. Rather, we open up a forum for communication and remembrance, and ultimately for reflection and closure.
Baddiel’s description of his show? “It’s about sex and ageing.” The press? They titled it a “massively disrespectful celebration”. I would argue that it was probably the most respectful, whilst simultaneously the most comedic, I’ve seen him. Sardonic, sharp and intelligent, the show ended with a real glow of nostalgia, almost tenderness, towards his family. (This, of course, is a description that I am sure he would hate. I would expect nothing less.) Perhaps my own personal circumstances were projected onto the show’s aftertaste, but the skilful manipulation of death, ageing and deep personal difficulty into genuine humour was fresh, brave and distastefully therapeutic.
Baddiel’s show ‘My Family: Not the Sitcom’ is now playing at the Playhouse Theatre until 3rd June. In case the promise of a genuinely funny and engaging evening is not enough, then go if only for the joy of watching him squirm as he recounts his childhood embarrassments and then watching him mellow, coming full circle in warm reflection as an ode to his mother and father. I think if anything we all can relate to that cycle together.
‘My Family: Not the Sitcom’ is now playing at London’s Playhouse Theatre until 3rd June 2017. You can purchase tickets via davidbaddiel.com.
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner
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