Mark Steel Corn Exchange, 24/10/08

Mark Steel is well-received by a left-leaning and surprisingly diverse audience in terms of age at a reasonably full Corn Exchange.

The ‘I first heard him on Radio 4’ crowd sit pretty comfortably with the ‘I saw him talk at an anti-war demo, my dad’s a socialist’ types, of which I suppose I was one.

However I couldn’t help feeling a bit like an impostor in an otherwise enthusiastic crowd. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a likeable enough guy and he had his moments but at times Steel’s set makes me feel like I’m watching a slightly embarrassing dad outstay his welcome, with the old guy’s hooting in the seat next to mine certainly not helping.

The two-hour set is longer than needed and invites some borderline cringe-worthy material about the inhumanity of Sat-Nav and an obligatory anti-call-centre piece.

More than this though, it feels like Steel has forgotten to place the onus on laughs, as he goes through a quite sad and lengthy section on his divorce and his life’s regrets.

Steel and his audience are comfortable with each other, and this makes it to my mind a little too chummy an affair at times.

His quote of one company making 93 million quid from hospital car parks is worth a mention but his down-with-the-youth street talk brings to mind the regrettable racist Caribbean ‘Chalkie’ character that Jim Davidson peddled to audiences in the 70s.

As Steel looks back at meetings with Tony Benn and Alan Bennett, and fondly remembers an appearance on ‘Test Match Special’, I begin to wonder if this is really an acceptable form of entertainment or if it’s just like listening to your dad bang on for hours at Christmas. I guess it depends whether you like Christmas, or your dad for that matter.

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