sat 25/03/2017

The best comedy DVDs of 2016 | reviews, news & interviews

The best comedy DVDs of 2016

The best comedy DVDs of 2016

A few suggestions for funny stocking-fillers - from Billy Connolly to Sarah Millican

Billy Connolly is on terrific form in his latest show, now out on DVD

The period before Christmas is, inevitably, when stand-ups rush to market. With so much material now available on YouTube, fewer comics release DVDs nowadays, but some of the best still do. This is theartsdesk's selection of the best live acts caught on film.

Billy Connolly: High Horse

Billy Connolly, now 74 and suffering from Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer, belies the ravages of his various illnesses. His delivery may be a little less impassioned, but by golly can he still tell a shaggy dog story better than any other comic. He deals frankly and funnily with his condition: “I'm going to explain my health symptoms,” he says. “It'll save you searching” - and away he goes, not sparing us many details.

While the physicality of old has gone, and he spends almost the entire show standing by a stool, Connolly still paints the most wonderfully vivid pictures – describing youthful misadventures around Europe, being on the road as a jobbing muso, the politesse of selfies, the joys of smoking, and the possibility of ending up in a care home – that make you feel as if you are in the room with him and it's just two pals having a laugh. There's a poignant undertow of illness and mortality here, but Connolly is on terrific form.

Sarah Millican: Outsider

Sarah Millican is an established stand-up and television star, so it may seem a little perverse to call her latest show Outsider. How much of an outsider can she really be? But with her trademark bonhomie, sarcasm and filthily funny material, she gradually allows us to understand the title. It's never explicit (although much else is – it wouldn't be a a Sarah Millican show without it), but her starting point is that she has moved to the country with her husband after living in the city all her life. She feels slightly out of place, she says, while new-found things such as septic tanks, creatures that live in her garden and her neighbours' obvious wealth faze her.

It's when she moves on to more personal material, such as body image and bullying, that the show takes wing, and when she reads a gushing email from a woman who, as a schoolgirl, was one of her tormentors, Millican expertly mines it for maximum comedy while allowing us to realise its poignancy. This isn't vintage Millican, but she still has the power to shock an audience.

Joe Lycett: That's the Way A-Ha A-Ha Joe Lycett

Joe Lycett's latest delightful show may feel like it has the air of something thrown together, being as it is a seemingly random collection of stories told as if they have just occurred to him and – as his long-term fans will now know as his trademark – tales of his online spoofing. Lycett's humour is ungimmicky, and he describes the joys of being a homebody, unfazed by his new-found celebrity after his many appearances on television panel shows (while taking some nice digs at those, such as Cheryl Cole, whose lives are defined by being famous). His favourite pastime is sending spoof emails – whether to porn stars or poncey coffee shops whose staff have been rude to him – but the highlight is the email correspondence he gets into with someone he believes is operating a property scam. Response by response, he wears the man down while ratcheting up the comedy for us. Lycett is a super-likeable comic and this is a no-frills show that is great fun.

Rich Hall: 3:10 to Humour

Keen Russell Crowe fans will recognise the title – it's a clever play on his 2007 remake of a classic Western, The 3:10 to Yuma. It's never referenced in the show, but it's typical of the wordplay that Rich Hall excels in as, layer by layer, he dissects an idea to its meta form in some of the longer set-pieces. While his interplay with the audience is warm (and forms a daft musical interlude), Hall is in trademark angry form as he tears into recent US politics, with its seemingly endless supply of Clintons and Bushes, all delivered in his distinctive growly tones. This is a man who takes grumpiness to new levels - but who can blame him, with the election of the man he calls a “back-combed orang-utan” to the most powerful job in the world? If you like Yank-bashing, he's your man.

Josh Widdicombe: What Do I Do Now...

Star of his self-named BBC sitcom, which charts his character's grumpiness about much of modern life, Josh Widdicombe is indeed still grumpy about much of modern life in person, whether it's struggling with technology – contactless credit cards seem to baffle him – or the fear of flying that makes taking trains an everyday must. He's nicely self-deprecating about being mistaken for Ed Sheeran and there's some playful interaction with the audience that throws up a few gems, and he casts a knowing eye at some of the wonders of his youth, including the humungous television set (all back and no screen) he once watched The Crystal Maze on. This is not groundbreaking comedy but, like Widdicombe himself, it's warm and easy-going.

Romesh Ranganathan: Irrational

Irrational is, Romesh Ranganathan tells us, about how happy he is, even though he spends much of it complaining about life, his family and politics. There's some pedestrian stuff about giving silly names to staff when ordering a drink in Starbucks, iPhone versus Android phone users, and having to share a table with strangers at Wagamama restaurants. All these are default material for lazy comics, but Ranganathan does up come up with some classy lines. Referring to Wagamama, he says: “That's worse facilities than at my house.”

But the material isn't entirely domestic; he has political stuff too, and his material on tweeting Donald Trump, Ukip, Isis, airport security and white rappers is insightful and welcome. Ranganathan is still a stage curmudgeon, but there is some sparkling comedy in here.

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