If I had to put a bet on which of today’s crop of young comedians will still be on our screens in a couple of decades time, I’d put my money on Jack Whitehall. I almost hate myself for saying that as he’s has that mix of being posh (and seemingly getting posher with every day) and overconfident that normally results in the reflex reaction, ‘tosser’.
Indeed, the more you find out about him, the more you want to hate him on principle – educated at the extremely exclusive Harrodian School and Marlborough College (where he had Robert Pattinson and Kate Middleton as fellow students), his father was the agent of the likes of Judi Dench and Colin Firth and his godfather is Nigel Havers. However he has a perhaps surprising self-awareness, candid attitude and endearing quality that quickly wins you over if you let it. There have been some who’ve claimed Whitehall is more a product than a comedian – a young, good looking guy being sold to us like a manufactured band – however this DVD is here to prove that people are looking at things backwards. He’s become increasingly ubiquitous as he’s good at what he does, and the fact he’s well-spoken and photogenic is just a handy byproduct that helps ensure extra exposure. The fact is though, if he wasn’t funny, he would indeed have just been plonked on the knee-jerk tosser pile.
This first live DVD was shot earlier this year at Hammersmith Apollo and sees him on fine form, riffing on everything from seeing a taping of The Jeremy Kyle Show to how his mother hasn’t gotten over the fact Kate Middleton married Prince William rather than him. There are a lot of good jokes and very funny moments, but what sets it apart from many other comics is that it often goes right to the edge of stand-up, to the point where it tips into one-man show. Although many comics tell stories, Whitehall takes it further, fully playing all the parts and providing the narration. It’s the difference between telling stories and genuine storytelling, so that certain parts of the set are structured to pull the audience in so they’re not just laughing but hanging on Jack’s words to find out what happens next.
It’s slightly theatrical (in a good way) and Whitehall gives a real, full-on performance, using his poshness and vocabulary (he’s a gift for pedants, as he so often uses the technically correct word, when most people are grammar guide wrong) to turn a comedy story into a great big exaggerated monologue. Indeed it’s this ability that convinces me more than anything that he’ll be around for a long time, as it suggests a versatility he’ll really be able to draw upon – indeed he’s already turned his hand to presenting and sitcoms on Channel 4 and BBC 3.
As mentioned, his poshness helps out, but so does his overconfidence, as it means that things other young guys might try to play down or hide, he uses to improve his act. He is well aware that he can be very camp, and while a lot of heterosexual, 24-year-olds would try to butch it up, Whitehall’s more than happy to mine his more flamboyant tendencies both for material (such as his youthful obsession with Robin Hood) and to accent his onstage style.
I don’t want to gush too much as not everything works, such as an extended anecdote about going to a Swedish House Mafia gig with a little person, which verges on sounding mean-spirited and making fun of someone’s disability. Likewise there are moments when his mistakes and ad-libs sound a little too practised and you’re aware he’s probably been making the same flubs for months. The conclusion, which sees Whitehall once more ripping into old schoolmate Robert Pattinson, also feels a bit like pandering following the success of previous, similar skits. However these things are outweighed by the fact that it’s a very funny gig and Whitehall is a very talented performer – and I use that word deliberately, as it’s the performance even more than the admittedly good material that makes this work.
I’m sure there are many of you who, like me, initially looked at this young, good-looking posh boy and dismissed him on principle, but I’d urge you to give him a chance, as you may be surprised at how much he can make you laugh.
Overall Verdict: A great first DVD from a young man who’s both very funny and a surprisingly good performer. He may be the sort of person we normally love to hate, but he’s self-aware and talented enough to make what could have been liabilities great assets, and which could see him sticking around for years to come.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac