About three seconds. That’s how long it takes from Dara O Briain’s first appearance on stage to his having the audience in his total command.
He crams more belly laughs into every ten minutes than other acts might manage in a full sixty minute set, which is even more impressive when you realise he’s on stage for just under two hours.
The show is called Crowd Tickler, which rather conjures up the image of a court jester pulling out all the stops to ensure his own prolonged survival as long as everyone’s laughing.
And God, does he work hard: rattling through observations and gags at the speed of a 33rpm record at the wrong speed. (We would make a more up to date digital reference, but as one of the recurring themes of the night is encroaching horror/comfortable ease at the passing of age, it seems apt). He collides and bounces against words like a panicky man negotiating a particularly tight conversational cul-de-sac.
As is almost tradition, he engages with a few audience members near the open of the show, leading to some brilliant miming and world building. O Briain doesn’t get quite enough kudos for his improvisational prowess: it’s never showy or self-indulgent, and it’s always a pleasure to see him delighted by where his imagination is taking him.
Here is a man who talks so fast, he is on occasion surprised to find where he’s ended up. He builds idea upon gag upon observation, his patter the joke-telling equivalent of a game of Buckaroo.
There is absolute understanding of the form. The show is so fast-paced that some audience members are genuinely breathless with laughter, but he looks after the audience’s expectations, either out of basic courtesy or a desire to protect the momentum of his own material, signposting when which stories are going to be the last before the interval/end.
Even that heads up becomes a gag in itself, ensuring that not a moment of stage time is wasted, with every inch crammed with smart intelligent observations, call-backs, and cultural references that feel inclusive rather than in-jokes.
It’s a game essentially of two halves, as the second hour has a more scientific bent, although it’s not as dense as, say, material he might explore if he were a guest on an episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage.
It’s a smart man (and by extension, an audience that likes to think of itself as smart) that takes current research into the gendered brain as an excuse to mine the well dug material of ‘the difference between men and women’.
Along the way, you have O Briain pinball-ricocheting from subjects as diverse as Netflix boxset bores, the inanity of what we find sexy, and how the entire world can change when you’re not paying attention for two minutes. ‘Don’t worry, I checked,’ he says when throwing out a contentious line about a big news event that hasn’t – but could conceivably have – occurred. ‘I’m not ending my career like that.’
Those who have only seen Dara O Briain presiding over / constrained by the bear pit of Mock the Week should make significant effort to see a comedian who is sharp, considered and genuinely delightful company.
Not just a rib tickler, but an entire damn crowd tickler – of over 1,500 very happy people.
Performed on Wednesday 14 October 2015 at Brighton Dome.