Paul Foot has a startling presence. He looks a little like a mod cocker spaniel, with the dress sense of a fashionable, middle-aged aunty. He moves about the stage with an exaggerated motion in his hips, which gives him the demeanour of a horny peacock. However, Foot does not present himself this way to provide the audience with a cheap, disparaging laugh. His general appearance is only one facet of his overall show; that is to say, it is only one tool through which he communicates his personality. And my abiding sense of this show was a genuine pleasure at having encountered a bizarre, intelligent, and thoroughly likeable individual.
Foot spends the first quarter of his set offstage, wandering through the crowd, talking them through exactly what is going to happen in the remaining forty five minutes, and easing them in to his characteristically haphazard style. The actual show itself is made up of three components: a few ‘Just a Minute’ style challenges, a talking game involving a hobby-horse, and several of what Foot calls ‘glimpses’, by which he means out-of-context pieces of prose. Needless to say, much of these aspects needed considerable explanation, which slowed down the pace of the show somewhat. However, once understood, they were very effective. The glimpses, for instance, would have seemed like clutching at straws in the hands of a lesser comedian, but in Foot’s case, they worked incredibly well.
A more pedantic critic might say that the overall structure of the show, random as it is, relies a little too heavily on the introduction. This observation, however, would be akin to denigrating a puppet show because the strings were visible. The ending to many comedy performances is often underwhelming; but Foot’s introduction informs the finale to such an extent that it is hard to have any gripe with the way he has chosen to structure things.
Perhaps Foot’s greatest strength is his rapport with the audience. His surreal demeanour – not just his exterior, but his florid, dandyish way of talking – provokes them enough to allay indifference. More importantly, he allows for consistent audience participation throughout, but without the threat of excessive mockery. In so doing, he is counteracting a thread of unadulterated cruelty to punters, which has been recently popularised by the likes of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr. Evidently this is a crutch that Foot has no need for. There is a reason for Foot’s ultimate success – which, as a definably ‘surreal’ comic, is no mean feat. He forces the spectators to become part of his show without resorting to gimmicks, but still manages to genuinely entertain them. By the end of the show, the whole audience (myself included) were acutely aware that we were in the presence of a performer at the top of his game.