Offering astute and deadpan deconstructions of everyday life, James Acaster is slowly forcing his way in to the comedy big time. This gentle 29 year old has already seen two Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominations and popped up all over TV and radio in the last five years.
Now he’s back in Edinburgh, dividing his time between writing and performing his new show. He says he’s really enjoying the show as the reaction has been lovely, plus he’s worked out who he ultimately should be writing for. “I tend to focus on improving,” he admits. “I’ve been tending to write stuff that I think is funny, first and foremost. It’s meant that I’ve got a show that I look forward to each night.”
This new show, Recognise, has already enabled Acaster to seize the New Zealand International Comedy Festival Award for Best International Show, when he was over there in May. Despite the heavyweight touring he’s doing with it, he maintains that the show still amuses him.
With working life beginning selling soft drinks and ice creams to thrill seekers at a theme park near Kettering, Acaster had been trying to get various bands up and running since he was thirteen. The life of a burgeoning rock star began to wear him down though, bandmates shared his work ethic and he found it frustrating not being able to regularly book gigs. Eager to create and perform, he elected to try stand-up, at least until he discovered this was his true calling in life. Not wanting to half-heartedly go to comedy, he threw himself into writing, experimenting and booking shows. With this career change, he discovered it was significantly easier with promoters willing to showcase his talents, allowing him to develop his routines and stage-craft faster.
Unlike when performing with bands, the rate of progression in writing didn’t hold back his ceaseless yearning to continuously improve. “With stand-up I could write stuff all the time and book gigs all the time. Although I wasn’t very good at the time, or enjoying all the gigs, I did enjoy the fact I was allowed to be really productive and prolific.” Taking about six months to create a show that he loved, he decided after a whole year that comedy was indeed the place for him.
He says that it’s hard to see yourself as a beginner, especially when you see comedians like Eddie Izzard perform weird and leftfield material to get people laughing. From this you can look in the wrong places for the faults in your own performances, and perhaps harbour the misconception you’re always in front of the wrong crowd. He’s adamant the key to being a great performer is down to attitude, realising you’re not the finished article and perhaps you’re not quite good enough… yet. Since Acaster stopped blaming the audience, his career has flourished, but he stresses it’s still a learning experience.
Now Acaster’s new show sees him once again taking the audience into a world of his creation, an oddball selection of treatises on the matters fixating him. This eclectic mash of personal politics is packed full of the enigmas, oddities and perils of modern British society that wait us at every turn. Even when he seems to be dissolving into a heap of mawkish weirdness, he’ll snap out with an observation so sharp you’d forgive any previous divergence.
Running between physical homages to the world of competitive ice-dancing or exploring the hidden risks in leading a conga, one beautiful constant in Acaster’s comedy is the skill with which he gracefully connects ludicrously dissimilar subjects. Conversely there’s not really a place for sweeping statements or altering public perception in this comedian’s routines. He accepts that his style of comedy is perhaps not the right platform for exploring big-picture issues. “I don’t think I’ve got anything profound to say that nobody’s heard before. There’s a lot of temptation to try and get a message across, even when it is something basic you might hear in a primary school playground.” But it’s OK. We don’t always want to be confronted by the daunting realities of the world at large. We all need something low-key, whimsical and very silly in our lives. This is where Acaster comes in, to wring comic gold from the bewilderingly trivial. I’m sure the significance of his many strange declarations ad obsessions will ultimately shine through.
James Acaster’s Recognise comes to Brighton Dome Studio Theatre, on Sat 18 Oct, as part of Brighton Comedy Festival