James Acaster: Brexit, Bake Off and Breakdowns

By Eleanor Dye, Third Year English Literature, and Jemima D’Souza, Second Year English Literature

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A review of James Acaster’s Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 – 31st October 2019 in the Gala Theatre, Durham.

James Acaster started the evening with a very different personality from usual, storming onstage in a garish bomber jacket with sunglasses and blasting rude music. Acaster filled the first few minutes of the show with swear words, claiming that he was ‘fed up’ with his usual audience which consisted of ‘old people and Chrizzos’ (Christians). He warned audience members not to get too comfortable if they didn’t fit into these two categories, saying ‘if you’re not an old person or a Chrizzo, I bet you know what your patronus is’. He claims ‘nerds’ are the third group he wishes to eliminate.

Acaster’s humour worked by pushing the very boundaries of humour itself, as he relentlessly accused a woman in the audience of putting him off by eating marshmallows.

In actual fact, the first half of the show was dedicated to making Brexiteers feeling uncomfortable. It was difficult to know to what extent he was joking. His tirade on the second referendum continued for longer than one might expect in a comedy night but he welcomed those who were discomforted to leave at the interval. He said that if they did, they would be proving him right: his point being that they chose the comedy show before knowing they would dislike its content, likening it to voting for Brexit. Acaster’s humour worked by pushing the very boundaries of humour itself, as he relentlessly accused a woman in the audience of putting him off by eating marshmallows.

it was refreshing to see consent championed even in issues that might ordinarily appear small.

In an unplanned event, James Acaster ended up asking an audience member to leave the show. A man had been blowing on a girl’s hair in the row in front of him. Acaster initially asked the girl whether she knew the man and his twin brother who had been smiling as the man allegedly blew on her hair. Acaster had expected her to say yes and was going to make a joke. He remained deeply disturbed for the next portion of the show and eventually asked them to leave. Although audience members were not able to judge what the appropriate response was, it was refreshing to see consent championed even in issues that might ordinarily appear small.

It was a powerful move to hear a famous comedian talk about their private experiences in such a personal way.

Acaster said that asking an audience member to leave was a significant moment for him. He, historically, had trouble rejecting unhealthy relationships. A great deal of James Acaster’s show focused on his own mental health and it was hugely refreshing to hear it discussed in such an open manner. He betrayed no shame when revealing that he found himself calling the Samaritans in the middle of the night and in talking about the struggles he faced in 2017, which he called ‘the worst year’ of his life. It was a powerful move to hear a famous comedian talk about their private experiences in such a personal way.

it was an entertaining but thought provoking evening that kept the audience in fits of laughter throughout

This coincided with Acaster’s appearance on The Great British Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer. He told the audience how he’d not slept for 36 hours with ‘the worst jetlag’ he’d ever experienced, which led to disastrous bakes and unresponsiveness as a result. This was another example of his handling of comedy and mental health together, without ridiculing the importance of the latter. His comment, after presenting Paul Hollywood with his cherry bakewell flapjacks of ‘started making it, had a breakdown… bon appetit’ went viral after Bake Off. Acaster, however, has no recollection of it and expressed, to the amusement of the audience, his bewilderment at becoming ‘a meme in America’. He suggested, with some irony, that the ‘had a breakdown’ part was more literal than it appears in the meme, in light of his call to the Samaritans.

Overall, it was an entertaining but thought provoking evening that kept the audience in fits of laughter throughout – even if his joke about Durham being the ‘third best’ university hit a little too close to home.

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