Stephen Merchant – Hello ladies, The Engine Shed, Lincoln, October 15th 2011

When it comes to stand up comedy you don’t get much bigger than Steve Merchant, quite literally in fact. At a towering 6ft 7”, Ricky Gervais’ best mate and the co-creator of the multi-award winning series’ of the Office and Extras, Merchant is now touring his brand new show, Hello Ladies as he searches (possibly in vain) for the woman of his dreams.

Like many others I’ve always been really particular about my choice of comedy. When it comes to seeing a stand up comic, even one as established as Billy Connolly, Peter Kay or Lee Evans, the first battle is being likeable. Just being liked as a person and a comic is winning half the battle and after that the laughs will inevitably follow.

Being a massive fan of everything Merchant and Ricky Gervais have worked on, maybe I’m a little biased but Merchant is certainly likeable. To start with, let’s be honest he looks funny with his lanky frame and geeky looks, an attribute he embraces and ridicules throughout his show. And his friendly interactions with the audience (minus a few disappointingly lame hecklers) are improvised and only add to Merchants material. In short (mind the pun) he’s hard not to like.

Taking to the stage with a strange mix of Peter Crouch style robot moves that apparently resembles, “a giant albatross hopping around on stilts”, Merchant instantly becomes a hit with the audience. Leading us through an interesting repertoire of encounters with the media and the general public, Merchant eventually makes it abundantly clear that he is on the search for love. Judging by his hilarious anecdotes of the various unsuccessful dates and encounters with women, it’s no surprise Merchant is still looking for that one special lady.  

Merchants comedy is in his charm and self loathing. I’m always wary of comics who spend their entire routine destroying their own looks or personalities to get a few cheap laughs. But Merchant masks his own self abasement with stories and cleverly written jokes that we can all relate to, especially the teenage lads (past and present) He mixes his routine with pretend cockiness and an obvious understanding of his own incredible success, but his charm and self ridicule makes his arrogance difficult to take seriously.

Hello Ladies is a show I won’t spoil for you. Needless to say his routine follows a structure of self-ridicule, frustrations in love and an exploration of what it actually means to be a geek. Merchants use of visuals are most welcome and his presentation of what sexual encounters with a blind-as-a-bat 6ft 7” man are like, had the audience in tears.

Merchant’s Hello Ladies show is the most pleasantly surprising stand up I’ve seen in a while.  Cynically, perhaps, I was expecting a show dominated by Merchants established fame, his showbiz pals and loaded with anecdotes centred around his friendship with Gervais and Karl Pilkington.

What we were treated to tonight at the Engine Shed was a great mix of jokes, personal injuries and a charming self character assassination, with the right amount of arrogance and humility that any great comic needs.  

Wonderfully original, honest, observant and very very funny. 

Why am I doing stand up comedy? Well it’s now the only thing I do nowadays where I don’t have to share the money I make with you know who

[quotename]Stephen Merchant[/quotename]

[quotetitle]Ricky Gervais’ Bitch![/quotetitle]

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