Derby Assembly Rooms
Star rating: 4/5
Stand-ups usually perform to a club full of late night drunks, so the prospect of a comedian making fun of his suicide attempt to a daytime audience comprised of sober social care professionals seems like one bad taste joke writes Mark Drinkwater.
But that’s exactly what the excellent Gareth Berliner did in his thought-provoking act.
The chirpy Londoner starts by describing a life-changing incident that happened five years ago. After more than a decade of suffering with the chronic bowel condition Crohn’s disease, which resulted in the removal of most of his intestines, he sat in the bath and took a huge overdose of painkillers.
It was at this point that he looked at his fully clothed body (“nobody wants to be found dead in the nude”) and found himself amused by the thought that “these jeans should fit really well now!”
Thankfully his shortened intestines saved his life as his body was unable to absorb enough of the toxins to kill him. So, along with Crohn’s disease, humour was able to get him through the darkest of times.
Chatty and engaging, it’s hard not to warm to Berliner as he regales his audience with his deeply personal stories.
There are plenty of memorable one-liners in his show, and his ill-health affords him some marvellous props – exposing the catheter that protrudes his torso, Berliner suggests he is “the only boyfriend who comes with a straw”.
Berliner is evangelical about the healing power of laughter and the highs of being a comic. He even suggested to a youth worker in the audience that she try to get her young tearaways to do stand-up. “It’s the best thing in the world – better than any drug,” he explained.
Comedy can be a cruel form of entertainment – although aside from an unnecessary dig at the royal family concerning Princess Diana’s death, Berliner demonstrated his ability to gauge the sensibilities of this atypical comedy audience. I had always considered comedy to be the art form that has least to offer social care practice. But Berliner’s choice of material reads like the syllabus from a social care course: drug abuse, depression, suicide, ill-health and disability, to name but a few. Recalling my dull DipSW training, perhaps someone should consider giving him the job running a social work course module.
Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London
➔ Gareth Berliner is performing at a charity fundraiser for St Mark’s Hospice at the Comedy Store, London SW1 on 5 November.