Andy Zaltzman: Plan Z | Paul Foot: 'Tis Pity She's a Piglet | Richard Gadd: Monkey See Monkey Do

Marissa Burgess reviews: Andy Zaltzman: Plan Z (4 stars) | Paul Foot: 'Tis Pity She's a Piglet (4 stars) | Richard Gadd: Monkey See Monkey Do (5 stars)

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Richard Gadd
Published 20 Aug 2016

During George W. Bush's term of office the only silver lining was that political comedians rarely ran out of material before his next mistake. So though the current political landscape looks doom-ridden, thanks to Brexit, an unelected UK prime minister and the possibility of Donald Trump with his sweaty digit on the nuclear button, rest assured that there's going to be plenty of source material for standup.

Which is why on that fateful day Andy Zaltzman voted to leave the EU, he tells us. He didn't really. Though such are his gag-making skills that Zaltzman would be able to find plenty of good material even from inside a socialist utopia, I'm sure. 

He's has been combining insightful political satire with a good dollop of contrasting absurdity for years. He's also known for working with John Oliver on the Political Animal shows and The Bugle podcast. His former partner in crime is a major star these days, and Zaltzman conducts a straw poll of all in the room to check who's heard of him. One hasn't. “YES!!” he exclaims, on the grounds that therefore everyone in that room has heard of Andy Zaltzman too. It's typical Zaltzman silly.

Plan Z is a fine hour showcasing Zaltzman's apparently easy talent for taking very recent events and penning a fast-paced show of satirical brilliance with plenty of ludicrous similes. Voting to leave the EU was like being offered a prawn sandwich and finding out it was actually two bits of polystyrene. To cut through the bountiful lies of the Brexit campaign he has created a 'subliminal message interpreter'—which may or may not be a pineapple—to help him decipher what politicians are really thinking. And by the close of the show the 'subliminal policy generator'—possibly a butternut squash—is to gather all the information and produce Plan Z. And let's face it, we need someone with a plan right now.

There was a time when Paul Foot could split a room. Thanks to some telly appearances upping his profile and having been around on the live circuit and at the Fringe for many years, he now has a sizeable following. Consequently it's frankly disconcerting watching an audience produce the kind of reaction usually reserved for Michael McIntyre. But it's also joyous, as it's been a long time coming for Foot. 

He's always been an incongruous figure on the stage. But while he used to favour doddering about it like a pensioner, these days he adopts a physical stage persona akin to Joy Division's Ian Curtis' jerky dance moves.

The opening routines of 'Tis A Pity She's a Piglet appear at first utterly random, with tales of his all-boys school. He even manages to turn compering on its head by focuses on talking about couples who aren't occupying the empty chairs in the room rather than those that are. He helpfully signposts segments of material and self-referentially notes what he's just done: “That was quite an abrupt changing of subject, wasn't it?”

But later more conventional routines surface, in particular a great bit of material features a middle-aged couple having a row on the beach. And there's an astute take down of Oscar Pistorius's trial defence. There's a childlike joy to be found in Foot punching a stuffed toy monkey in its smiling face – playing on our love of anthropomorphising things with faces on them. The humour is heightened when he approaches one of the “miniature humans” (aka children) in the front row to punch it too. Whatever you do Foot, don't ever change.

As word got around about Richard Gadd's anarchic and experimental show Waiting for Gaddot last year, people were lining up down the street to squeeze into his tiny venue. So there was always going to be a level of anticipation surrounding this year's Monkey See Monkey Do. Whilst last year was an ensemble piece with Ben Target, Ian Smith and Ed Aczel, Gadd appearing largely on screen, this year's sees Gadd alone on stage on a running machine throughout as he divulges his intense anxiety and fears of not being man enough.

Though his use of multimedia tools is similar to in last year's show, this year the content is very, very different. Gadd has taken up running to literally run off his anxiety and metaphorically run from the gorilla it manifests as. Even going running itself sets off feelings of self-consciousness in Gadd, at which point the ape is conjured to life once more.

Gadd's also psyching himself up for a return to the 'man's man' competition that he flunked out of last year after letting a bit of “gayness” creep in. Gadd examines notions of masculinity, as parodied in this contest, questioning whether his feelings of homosexuality and anxiety somehow make him less of a man. Interspersed are sound recordings of the therapy he has undertaken to get to the bottom of the problem, gloriously illustrated with nonsensical faces made from upside-down chins.

It's full on and frenetic and teeters on confusing as he desperately tries to damp down the anxiety and prove himself a man. But all is to come clear. A brave, funny and frankly magnificent piece of work.