Monkey Barrel 1
Aug 22-28 (12:30)
When I was watching Lauren Pattinson’s perform her latest show, “It Is What It Is”, you realise very, very quickly that it is hard to dislike her. She is effortlessly likeable in a way that I think is hard to pull off disingenuously onstage. And the second thing that comes to mind is how seemingly honest she is in discussing her own struggles with anxiety and her mental health, and it is this topic that her act centers around, and how she continues to manage it in her adult life.
For instance, she notes that her struggles to manage relationships or transitions in her career are rooted in the expectations she felt as a child to always exceed, to be, as she puts it, “the perfect kid”. While discussing this, she hits some real high notes with it; in one particular point, she notes that, due to her anxiety, she would be refraining from making eye contact with anyone in the audience throughout the show, which produced a major, early laugh from the audience.
Her people-pleasing characteristics develop one of the better stories in her show, where, while on holiday with her girlfriends, she agrees to go to a water park while not letting them know she can’t actually swim. This leads into a hilarious climax, and a great testimony on the irrationality of these patterns of thinking that so many of us struggle with. In terms of the venue, The Monkey Barrel also deserves some credit for the stage-focused layout of the room, which, as any comedian can tell you, is very easy to mess up and provide distractions for the audience or comic when managed poorly.
A major strength of the special comes with her discussion of when the Covid-19 pandemic began and how this derailed her comedy career, as well as how she coped with her boyfriend breaking up with her and having to move back in with her parents in Newcastle. As Pattinson develops the rest of her act from this pitfall in her life, she makes some brilliant reflections on the issues of a contemporary stand-up comedy scene so dominated by the middle class.
As a working class woman from Newcastle, she reminds the audience – including myself – of the fact that she is an anomaly in the British stand-up scene, but she does so in a way that isn’t overplayed or self-serving. This is brought home in her critique of what she felt was an inherent snobbery among fellow stand-up comedians, who, during the pandemic, lamented the end of their steady salaries as comedians, but didn’t think for one moment to go out and just get a service or office job to sustain themselves until things returned to normal as they felt this kind of work was beneath them. In contrast, Pattinson talks at length about working in Asda during the pandemic, and the joys of struggling to remember the names of everyday vegetables and having to serve her old school bully at the checkout.
I found this material really refreshing, as it was great to hear a distinct take on the pandemic, and especially how Pattinson developed how getting back into the service industry provided an indirect way to challenge and improve her mental health. And before she delivered her commentary on these snobby tendencies within the stand-up circuit, Pattinson made it clear she was a little hesitant to discuss this, but I’m glad she did. Doing so made her show all the better for it, and really helped the audience connect with her as an honest, hard-working and funny young comedian while delivering a meaningful, contrasting example of life during the pandemic. For me, this was a definite highlight of her show, and I hope she leans into it more in future shows. She finished her show by discussing her pride in her working-class background, and I think it was a really great way to end a show that was principally based on self-innovation, empowerment and transformation.
When I describe how likeable Pattinson is, I think it’s worth clarifying something. I think a lot of comics instantly hate the idea of being “likeable” or “nice”, as it seems to suggest that their material isn’t up to scratch. That’s not what I’m suggesting with Pattinson. She delivered a great set, and from the audience’s reaction, she has built up a large and loyal fanbase. However, there were definitely moments when I felt she could have delivered certain punchlines a little more effectively, or feathered them a little better with more robust set-ups. Also, I think at certain points the speed at which she delivered certain jokes undersold a lot of the rich material she was working with.
So among a lot of strengths (mentioned above), that would be my only honest critical feedback. But I will finish by emphasizing this: there are a million comics out there who could use plenty of constructive advice to refine their work, but only a handful that most professionals within the entertainment industry would be willing to reach out to and help. Pattinson definitely falls into the latter category, which is a serious credit to her approachability and work ethic as a comedian. With her skill-set and honest approach to working through major obstacles in her life- whether it’s a breakup, a pandemic, or her comedy- I would put money on Pattinson continuing to make significant progress as a comedian while holding onto her major strengths as a performer.