When I wrote about Bill Hicks last week, in advance of the 20th anniversary of his death, I indicated that he was probably the best comedian I had ever seen and that I wasn’t sure if I would witness anyone better. Before I wrote that I did have to weigh up the experience of seeing Daniel Kitson.
It’s hard to compare the two. Hicks with his emotional intelligence and heartfelt ire, Kitson with his knowing, bittersweet sageness – but they are both worth celebrating, that is certain. With Kitson at least I know I can go back for more, and perhaps that is the only difference.
With the start of Kitson’s latest show, Analog.Ue, at the National Theatre this week the plaudits have already come out for the 36-year-old in expectation of something brilliant as usual. It’s part of the process of recognising a legend in his own lifetime.
Even before he was crowned Perrier winner in 2002 (subsequent to which he deliberately disappeared from the mainstream limelight) this dishevelled denizen of Denby Dale (in West Yorkshire) was catching the eye, and while Kitson’s sartorial style became ever more charity shop chic, his mind became paradoxically sharper, and his ability to ‘nail’ his subjects became unnervingly unerring.
He’s managed his own fame and cultivated his audience with carefully-chosen venues, avoidance of TV and cross-fertilisation into theatre with his storytelling. But why exactly do his faithful followers keep coming back for more?
Kitson champions the everyday and the uncomplicated. In one of his stand up routines, he describes his delight in eating a cheese sandwich and watching Grandstand when he was younger. Later, in the same show, he admires the scene of octogenarians sharing jokes and laughing at them “even though they may not be here next Tuesday.”
He also makes the lo-fi harder-edged; he gives humanistic concerns an uncompromising, irresistible force. “‘What did you do today, daddy?’ ‘I shattered someone’s dreams.'” This was how Kitson imagined an X-Factor judge accounting for themselves to their offspring.
Away from stand up, Kitson’s storytelling writes large his ability for dramatising the domestic and shunning the showy. His lyricism tumbles into poetry at times, and if not poetry certainly quotable maxims:
Hope is a life kept full of gaps, just in case.
I don’t think anyone really knows who they are, so much of what we know about the world is assumed.
After watching ‘As of 1.52 GMT on Friday 27th April 2012, this show has no title’, at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh that very year I met another critic in the cafe. They were undecided on the show’s merits and suggested it ranged from two stars to four stars. But even at two stars, I thought, it was still more memorable than other worthy shows.
Though this particular show was less well regarded overall than others (the cascading self-referential nature of it deemed perhaps a little too giddy for its own good) it struck me then that, for many of us, Kitson is one of those artists whose rateability is skewed. He will – surely – always be good, it is just a question of degree. As he said himself: “I know, it’s amazing, I’ve done it again.”
This makes me very hopeful for his show at the National, that I will see next week. I am equally confident that Kitson will use continued praise for amusing self-referential asides, rather than let it divert him away from his consistent form.