Edwardian London. A Pall Mall gentleman’s club. An erudite, elegantly dressed man in a Harris tweed sits in his sumptuous leather armchair, takes a swig from his 25-year-old single malt and continues his treatise on the scourge of the lower classes.
This is the life Simon Evans should have had. Instead, by dint of being inconveniently born in the wrong century, he finds himself a mere comedian, forced to espouse his views in the tawdry latter-day equivalent of the music halls. How vulgar.
Unlike many other posh-boy comics whose inability to empathise with the vast majority is an explicit part of the joke, Evans presents himself as an aloof patrician, who simply knows what is good and proper because of his good breeding.
Indeed, surely it *is* better for his five-year-old son to idolise the unimaginable heroism of Ernest Shackleton than some racist, base thug of a footballer or mayfly-famous X-Factor contestant.
That there’s an uncomfortable truth at the heart of his diatribes about returning to good old-fashioned values, which adds to the ambiguity of the comedy. He’s a stealth Tory in the liberal comedy world: rather than laughing at an obviously out-of-touch Daily Express-reading duffer, we are laughing at the state this country’s got itself into. Nor is there anything delicate about the way this cold 47-year-old expresses this. He says what might be unfashionable with a witty, elegant and unforgiving brutality mixed with supercilious sarcasm that clobbers you into chuckling.
But it’s not all sneering; while Evans might be good at the intellectual side of life, when it comes to practicalities, he has to ‘get a man in’ for everything but childcare – and even that’s a challenge now it’s not the done thing to pack them off to a boarding school and received them back at 18 with a firm handshake. Such elements show at least some chinks in his armour of superiority, though not many.
His Brighton Comedy Festival show, in the city’s 1,200-capacity Corn Exchange is packed; maybe because he’s a local, or more likely because he performed such a storming set at last weekend’s opening gala. But it’s a double-edged sword. Those ten minutes or so – including withering observations about the local party culture or the way football was designed to ‘draw the poison’ from High Street of a Saturday afternoon – are undoubtably the strongest of the hour, so the effect is lessened if you’ve only just heard this material.
But the lines bear repeating, from Boris Johnson’s mishaps on zip wire to a perfectly-pitched analogy about racism. Since he presents himself as so well educated, it’s no surprise that he is such a great craftsman of language.
There are a few slower moments you might call lulls, and there is little in the way of texture: Evans’s superior attitude is unflinching, even when it’s misplaced. But the cruellest, most pointed gags are an evil delight.