James Acaster has just cemented his place as a master comedian craftsman.
Spanning two perfectly put together hours, Cold Lasagne… contrasts 1999 — the best year of the Kidderminster stand-up’s life — with 2017, his worst. It’s characteristically whip smart and perceptive, but, surprisingly, there’s a newfound vulnerability, previously absent.
Throughout the first act, with its loose pre-millennium backdrop, there’s a sense of continuity with Acaster’s previous work. Discussions of eclipses and Discmans illustrate a natural progression of the hyper-sensitive observation comedy on which Acaster has cut his teeth. But in deploying a delicate touch, the premise effortlessly expands beyond a simple 90s nostalgia trip and delivers insightful musings on the state of the world.
An absurdist Brexit-analogy, in which a restaurant flounders in brokering a deal with its kitchen, breaking the promises of departed menu writers, is particularly hilarious, simultaneously teasing at the pessimistic subtext to follow.
The second act steers a bleaker course, as Acaster, so often content with creating surrealist masks, finally exposes himself as he openly mines personal trauma.
Careerwise, Acaster actually enjoyed a successful 2017. The first UK comedian to secure a multi-special deal, he is self-aware of this position of privilege (“Just the one book deal though”). Nonetheless he presents a painful picture, as a succession of those closest to him let him down. Dumped by his girlfriend, gas-lighted, and subsequently dropped, by his agent, and forced to confront an inappropriate relationship with a therapist, the subject matter hangs heavy on his shoulders.
Crucially though, he remains as funny as ever. Part of the joy watching Acaster is an awareness that every laugh is justly earned. Each joke is lovingly crafted, each set up meticulously worded, and now, each moment of tragedy has obviously been agonisingly thought over.
Gone is some of the whimsy of previous shows, jettisoned in favour of raw openness. It’s this unexpected honesty, however, coupled with Acaster’s expert control, that elevates personal tragedy to new heights.
By Sam Russell
James Acaster: Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 runs till 4 November at the Vaudeville Theatre. Tickets from £20.30