Liam Williams: burnt out on politics
After Liam Williams snatched an Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination for his exhilarating 2014 show, expectations were high going into the Fringe this year. And, given that the topic of his new show Bonfire Night is his own ineffectualness, the fact it doesn’t quite measure up feels sadly fitting.
As was the case with his 2014 show Capitalism, Williams’ political inclinations once again jostle for supremacy over his personal neuroses. He’s a Comment is Free politico, waxing lyrical about the evils of capitalism and the saintliness of Naomi Klein. But what tears him up the most is his inability to put his views into action, either because of his own laziness (‘I’ve read Piketty. Well, half of it… half of the blurb’) or his general feeling that, in a nation resigned to ‘selfishness’ (in other words, that just elected the Tories), there’s simply no hope.
But where Capitalism seemed to mock Williams’s personal-political malaise as middle-class self-indulgence, here he paints it as a natural response to the grinding status quo. Amid routines about his ill-fated attempts at volunteering, and unending shame at failing to recycle, there’s also two, jarring rap songs, in which he rhymes, soberly, about how depressed he is. They raise a few nervous laughs, but you get the feeling they’re not supposed to be funny in the first place.
Williams’s sardonic wit and his refined Leeds burr remain a killer combination, and he hatches some hilarious new routines here. In yet another riff on political fatalism, he holds up the celebration of Bonfire Night as proof that the British are incapable of revolution. ‘The French have Bastille Day. The Americans have Independence Day. And what have we got? Bonfire Night. The day when everything stayed exactly the same.’ But all too often, gags make way for half-cocked political missives and semi-witty miserabilism.
Political impotence and Gen Y angst are good subjects for a young comic. But rather than explore and satirise the modern malaise, Williams does little more than wallow in it. Far from revolutionary stuff.
Tom Slater is assistant editor at spiked.
Liam Williams: Bonfire Night is at Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters until 19 August.