COMEDY NIGHT: Why you need to see... Carl Donnelly
Who: Carl Donnelly
Where: The Comedy Store, Manchester
Carl Donnelly says a lot of things without saying much. Or rather he implies a whole lot in the gaps between the gags. It has the weirdly subliminal effect of tinging your instinctive laughter with lingering after-thoughts of what lies beneath. You are left to join the dots yourself, within the confines of a 20-minute set at least.
On the surface, much of Donnelly's material is ideal fare for the boisterous Friday night crowd. The multiple stag do's in attendance relish his tales of bachelor party misadventures in the likes of Malaga and Tallinn, whilst a whole bit about the old-fashioned chivalry of stealth flatulence is a not-so-silent but deadly winner.
But there's clearly more than meets the eye. Sure he knows how to work a room - at times it seems effortless in his casually chatty style - and he can definitely spin a yarn. It is no surprise to learn that he is of Irish stock (I mean the name's a bit of a giveaway), as the rhythm of his raconteur's lilt lends itself to stereotype.
That said, for every bawdy tale of sniffing out Estonian snow or getting shit-faced in Spain, there's constant allusions to a rocky life lived. I don't recall Donnelly mentioning 'mental health' once in his whole set - why would you when charged with jump-starting the weekend for a room of punters - but it hovers just beneath.
Stag do shenanigans are preceded with "I'm so messed up", due to racking up two marriages by his mid-30s. The crowd cheer at his boast of being the last man standing on the first of a four-day bender, but the punchline is he's crying in a toilet by day two. He's not the #LAD he used to be and would much rather be watching Queer Eye.
There's a Larkin-esque lament about how his Irish working-class parents "fucked me up" and how their love of the 'craic' was great in his teens but less so as an infant. That flows into his mum's anxiety, and how the prospect of sitting in first-class on an East Midlands train fills her with dread at mixing with the Nottingham-bound elite.
On one level Donnelly is giving the revellers exactly what they want with big laughs and tall tales. On another he is essentially telling them that he may have took a few wrong turns and made some bad decisions, and yeah, that may have fucked him up a little. But it's all cool - and funny. He also shows exactly why, sometimes, less is more.