We booked this show a few months ago, and at odd moments during the interim period I would think to myself, “oh good, we’re going to see Julian Clary again soon”; and then I would instantly also think “oh God I do hope he doesn’t pick on me.” The premise of his new show is that he is scouring the country looking for a new boyfriend to be selected from the audience, and doubtless to be subjected to some extreme humiliation onstage for the benefit of the relieved guffawing onlookers.
That all comes in the second half. In the first half, we are treated to some Big Brother recollections; a Mastermind game with a lady from the audience; some advertising for Blue Nun, “sponsors of this tour” involving some extremely biting reflections on the quality of said product, and generally Julian Clary’s special brand of stand-up; punters, I thank you. The good news is that this show is a huge lot more rewarding than the last tour of his we saw – Lord of the Mince – which was funny enough but somewhat lacking in substance and material. This time Julian is back with lots of subjects to regale us with, and he was on very perky form. Only when he did a sequence reading from the local newspaper did I feel the energy sap a little.
But it is his search for his new husband that is the really funny element to this show. For one thing, the relief when you realise you’re safe is immense, and you can get on with enjoying the evening. I really thought I was going to be in trouble; sat in the centre of Row G, and the two spaces in front of us in Row F were empty, so when the house lights went up I must have been directly in his sights. Fortunately he obviously decided I wouldn’t be hilarious enough (good move Julian); and also that old ploy of not being on an aisle worked. If you want to avoid being one of his victims, don’t sit near the aisle. Sitting far away from the stage is no safety net though, as he brought back several hapless men – threatened with his stun gun – from the back of the theatre.
Eight suitors are chosen from the audience and herded into Julian’s mincing pen, and then each one is questioned and given a task to complete. I won’t spoil it for you with details, but some candidates have to show skills they might not normally practise. All eight of the guys were incredibly good sports, and it really was a very funny hour. Eight become four; then four become two; and finally one is chosen for the grand ceremony. Our lucky man was James, who certainly looked as though he enjoyed every minute of it. I was reminded strongly of TV’s old Generation Game; and indeed, as he gets older, I think Mr Clary is drawing on Larry Grayson’s influences more and more.
This kind of audience involvement is a perfect vehicle for his skills. Where he once would have said some rather savage things about his punters to make his point, nowadays he gets better quality laughs from treating the audience more kindly. His humour has evolved over the years – and this is reflected in the wide demographic of people attending the show. He seems to appeal absolutely across the board – men, women, teenagers, elderly, and all the gaps in between. No doubt his recent Big Brother appearance has helped widen his fanbase; but also he’s been going for a number of years now. Those people (like us) who saw him as The Joan Collins Fan Club in the 80s and have stuck with him (bless you punters) are now 25 to 30 years older – gasp – which might account for the presence of so many older people in the audience.
He landed a serious punch at the end of the show too. After all the camp gaiety of his wedding ceremony to James, he finishes with a song – chanted in the best Clary tradition – that draws on continued prejudice and inequality for gay people around the world, which made an uncomfortable but valuable juxtaposition with the humour that had gone before. Not preachy or dogmatic, but it sure made you think.
A very entertaining evening with a national treasure; I’m sure Julian will continue to enjoy warm hands upon his entrance for the rest of the tour.