Comics are, in general, such a neurotic bunch that perhaps the most useful thing they can do with their lives is to share their neuroses with us on stage, so that we don’t feel so alone. On this analysis, Tom Allen should stop worrying that he’s not doing enough with his life; or perhaps he shouldn’t, because that would be one less worry for him to share.
Allen’s show is held together by this broad theme: the central image is of him as an eight-year-old boy, standing on a diving board but afraid to jump into the pool. It’s a metaphor for a life lived fretfully on the sidelines, sometimes wilfully distancing himself from the crowd because of a feeling that he’d never fit in anyway (Allen is gay, geeky and inexplicably posher than his family and childhood peers), sometimes wishing fervently he could just get stuck in.
The fretfulness doesn’t show in Allen’s stage presence, which is truly commanding: camp, mannered and booming, with a voice that more than fills the oddly-shaped, echoey room that is Stand Six. There’s a lot of very strong material, subjects ranging from the weird rituals of school life to the horror of social manners that is internet dating. Allen’s laconic delivery leaves punchlines… hanging to the… very… last… second, a technique that pays dividends and provokes plenty of belly laughs.
There’s a feeling of a half-hour of excellent jokes stretched to fill an hour, leaving us frustrated to be seeing a potentially great comedian in a slightly less-than-great show. But coming from someone who is himself so used to life’s frustrations, perhaps that’s appropriate enough.