men the sadness of a socially isolated Christmas, it was something to celebrate: a live broadcast of the best show of James Acaster’s career, Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999. Released directly in the West End two years ago, this all-ages show It took a top-tier comedian to a whole new level. But it was a blink and you miss it show, featured in a trio of short races in the West End, and was never screened until a broadcast on Dice late last week. It was a good opportunity to get reacquainted with what makes Cold Lasagne, and Acaster himself, so great.
What caught your eye the first time, besides the show being insanely funny, was the sensation of a comedian coming out from behind his mask. Yes, his standup was already remarkable, hence the record of five consecutive nominations for the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, not to mention four simultaneous (and interconnected) Netflix specials. But those shows hid as much as they revealed about their creator, behind those misleading concepts about jury duty, say, or his secret life as an undercover cop. Sometimes they suggested real-world concerns behind the elaborate fictions: a spiritual crisis, in Represent, or a breakdown, in Recognize. But you had to extrapolate, and you didn’t know (Acaster certainly wasn’t saying it) whether his hunch was right or wrong.
Cold Lasagne represents a complete change of tone. Kettering’s comic nerd in fall colors, corduroy, and ties makes way for a walking rooster in the flyers. The comedian who made his name by thinking too much about trivia (and avoiding politics altogether) begins with a raucous section on Brexit, brilliantly compared to ordering a steak at a restaurant, being offered shit instead and not allowed to change. the order. And the artist who avoids explicit autobiography suddenly gets very personal, not just with his first act anecdote about a disastrous turn in The Great British Bake Off (which leads him desperately to phone the Samaritans), but with almost all of the second half. , which uncovers an unlikely event in Acaster’s love life, a painful breakup with his agent and his ongoing struggles with his sanity.
Sound like a chore? Oh no, it isn’t. I can hardly remember an hour of comedy more electrifying than the second half of Cold Lasagne. It opens with Acaster’s hilarious dissection of being dumped by his girlfriend in favor of Rowan Atkinson (or as Acaster prefers it: Mr Bean). It’s a die-hard premise that our host squeezes out every last drop of indignity. But even that pales next to the section on his agent breaking up with him after a misjudged comment on Saturday morning television. It’s one of those routines, of which Stewart Lee is a master, that makes you laugh out loud as you marvel at how Acaster is achieving his comedic effects. The presumption, you are telling the whole traumatic story from your agent’s point of view, is bold and a lot of fun. And the emotional complexity, given the light that the story sheds on Acaster’s well-being, is impressive.
It’s an extraordinary thing, but it leaves you wondering where Acaster’s standup career can go. I didn’t feel that way when I saw the show for the first time, a year before this Hackney performance was recorded. But watching the broadcast, I was struck by how cynical Acaster sounded about Britain, the world and his comedy. There’s also a moment where he scolds his audience for tweeting about his shows, which is hilariously brusque and too close to the bone. Despite being a fantastic example of the art form, Cold Lasagne doesn’t leave you with the impression of being a man excited to perform a stand-up comedy.
Let’s hope we are wrong. Certainly, Acaster seems delighted with the show: “I couldn’t be happier [or] prouder, ”he said when announcing the event, which means a lot, in light of the struggles the show represents. Hopefully Cold Lasagne will usher in a new chapter for Acaster, retaining from his previous work the meticulous stage-building skill, the eye for weirdness, and the compulsion (funny in itself) to dig deeper and push harder than most to. find the funny in the way we behave and the things we say. But marrying that with the fierce emotional directness and toughness that Cold Lasagne brought into his act. It’s strange to think that five consecutive awards and a quad hit on Netflix could have been just a palate cleanser, but Cold Lasagne is good enough to make you believe.
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