Tom Craine, Comfort Blanket at the Ustinov Theatre, Bath (30 July 2009)
Sweetly anxious nonsense sets up dark flashes of brilliance in Tom Caine’s giddily self-conscious show. Loosely wrapped around the theme of worries and consolations, Caine’s crowd-embracing question “Does anyone else here do that?” tends to get a response of surprised agreement – he skips past the normal pound-shop observations and into a raw and funny world of exaggerated confessional. “It’s all true,” he promises, then adds: “Well, except for that bit.”
With a nervy, head-scratching, hand-twisting stage presence, Caine comes off as a likeably unthreatening neurotic – which means there’s even more comic force when a black punchline, such as becoming an accidental sex-offender through predictive text, punctures the act.
After the jump: [Paperhouse extra] Tom Craine interview
Tom Craine’s subtle comedy of mortification is verbal, but his compellingly awkward physical demeanor matches his act just right. So, it’s no surprise that a simple parting handshake turns into a fumbled mashing of digits. “I interviewed Lethal Bizzle for 6 Music,” he says, slightly mournfully. “He went to do this very elaborate high five and I didn’t know what to do, so I just let my hand lie there and he did stuff to it. It was rather unpleasant, actually.”
This sense of constant, trivial social anxiety is the stuff of Craine’s Edinburgh show, Comfort Blanket, in which he dissects his legion worries (many of which he puts down to a hyper-sheltered, TV-free upbringing in Bath) and exposes the reassurance mechanisms he’s developed. These range from the familiar – thumbsucking – to a complicated arrangement with a hot-water bottle. But when I meet Tom after a gig at the Ustinov in Bath, I wonder how much of the autobiographical-sounding material is actually true.
All of it, apparently: “The way I write is seems to be that everything is confessional, but a silly version. I didn’t have a TV, for instance – it was obviously quite hard to know what people were going on about at school because of that. The cool kid in the stories does exist.” Is it difficult performing this kind of material at a homecoming show? “It can be, because there are always gonna be a few people in there who you know. Especially when you do stuff which is slightly surreal at times and clearly isn’t the truth, that can be strange.”
Craine describes himself as a failed accademic (“I did child psychology and really could have done a lot of good in the world,” he says, “but I’ve thrown that away now”) but he’s been on the comedy scene for several years now, has a script in development at the BBC (as well as that Music work) and toured the country as part of the AAA package tour. This year, he’s performing at Edinburgh for the first time with Comfort Blanket.
A big part of the show’s success comes from Craine’s nervy rapport with the audience. But he admits that he isn’t at his best in “laddy, stag-do environments”, and remembers one time when it all went horribly wrong: “I don’t really invite hecklers. But my sixth ever gig, I got booed off stage. That was really horrible. It was in Bournemouth – at a gig where it was five pounds in, and all the chicken you could eat. So I was performing to piles of death, being told I was the worst comic they’d ever seen. I went backstage into the green room while the main bit became a nightclub, and I had to leave through the room, once again being heckled as I walked across the dancefloor.”
You must be a strong man to survive that sort of treatment, I say. “I probably went back to my hot water bottle and was fine.” Comfort Blanket’s mix of likeable neurosis and sharp surrealism should go over better in Edinburgh, anyway: hopefully, success won’t wither his discomfort.
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009. The review originally appeared in Venue.