Reviews PerformanceReviews Published 1 February 2012

A Stroke of Luck

Royal Festival Hall | Southbank ⋄ 29th January 2012

Death and the Birdman.

Carmel Doohan

Fancy a spot of comedy about death? Markus Birdman will happily oblige. Despite the shocking content of some of his material there prevails a feeling of old fashioned fun to his work. He talks about paedophilia, failure and regret but beneath the knowing smile there is a sense of carefulness; he doesn’t want to offend, because he wants you to love him.

Birdman is performing at the Southbank Centre as part of their weekend-long Festival of Death. He suffered a stroke last year which permanently damaged his eyesight, but in wonderfully British fashion, his initial response was to assume he was suffering from a killer hangover and do nothing for three days. Accompanied by a pianist throughout, Birdman informs his audience: “You have to be nice to me; I’ve just had a stroke.” This encapsulates his act, a mixture of sweetness with darker – and filthier – material: he tells stories about fucking earmuffs, discussing his penis with his seven year old daughter and hiding behind hedges in low-lit parks, then rounds thing up with a rendition of ‘The Bare Necessities’ in which he uses the word ‘cunt’ as often as humanly possible

On the wall behind him are felt tip drawings: skulls and flowers and trinkets, just like those left as offerings in Mexican villages to commemorate the Dia De Los Muertos. Adopting a deep Spanish accent he takes on the persona of fortune teller and gipsy shaman. His experience has caused him to reflect on some pretty big issues, the biggest of which seems to be: what do we do with our gratitude now that there is no one left to offer it to?

Before the show I had visited the Wellcome Trust exhibition Infinitas Gracias. This is a display of hundreds of Mexican miracle paintings or votives, painted onto tin roof tiles to offer thanks to particular saints for lucky escapes. These gentle drawings had a feel that was not unlike Birdman’s work. Gratitude can be shown in strange ways and while these naïve depictions of near misses had an unintentional cartoonish and comedic quality, Birdman’s work has the opposite effect: his comedy takes the form of an unintentional prayer.

Birdman’s stand-up has always grappled with religion – previous Edinburgh Fringe shows include Sympathy for the Devil and Son of a Preacher Man – and there is something of the preacher in Birdman as well as the old school entertainer. Through our laughter and his own he is trying to make us say ‘yes’: yes, we are here and, yes, we are still (just about) alive. Making us giggle is his own personal form of votive. He asks us to give thanks for our dirty, pathetic lives and, while wiping our eyes, we can all say ‘amen’ to that.


Carmel Doohan

Carmel is an arts journalist and writer who lives in Hackney, London.

A Stroke of Luck Show Info

Cast includes Markus Birdman


Running Time 1 hr



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