“Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”
Mitch Benn looked like death warmed-up. I hope he won’t mind me writing that – I’m here to praise him, not to bury him – but the Liverpudlian comedian was at the Art Centre last night in the throes of a heavy cold. As his act is based heavily around musical satire – he accompanies himself on stage with a guitar and backing tracks – this viral assault on his vocal chords was obviously far from comfortable. His voice was gravelly and regular swigs of fruit smoothie were required to soothe his aching throat between songs.
Still, a nasty cold isn’t the worse thing that’s happened to the comedian in the last twelve months. He’s suffered personal upheavals, lost his slot as a regular contributor on Radio 4’s ‘Now Show’ and after the deaths of a number of his childhood heroes in 2016 he was – at 46 years old – starting to feel his own mortality.
And this show – Don’t Fear the Reaper – is the result: a comic and musical mediation on human mortality and death. Not that he ever get bogged down in morbidity. Mitch Benn’s attitude to the human condition is ultimately irreverent; possibly best proved by his raucous Chaz and Dave-style number about the Pope Benedict XVI. There’s also the Hard Rock bombast of “Rock and Roll Zombie Apocalypse” and a spot-on pastiche of Ashes to Ashes era Bowie that propounds the theory that the Thin White Duke was the only person holding the world together and that’s why everything’s gone to hell in his absence.
Equally he isn’t afraid to stray into more personal and reflective modes. A witty yet persuasive exploration into the shared attributes of Victoria Wood and diminutive rock God Prince (there are more than you’d think) segues into a heart-melting simple musical tribute to the late comedienne entitled “Victoria Would”. And the section where he recorded and live-looped his voice on his phone to perform an a Capella six-part harmony with himself was simply staggeringly example of vocal timing and control.
Luckily for all those present the fruit smoothie worked and Mitch Benn’s voice held up for 90 minutes without any on-stage fatalities. And they were 90 precious minutes in the company of a seriously talented laugh-maker, musician and satirist. Mitch Benn should be more widely known and appreciated. He’s Britain’s answer to Tom Lehrer.
We’ll miss him when he’s gone.