I held certain visions in my head about how life would be when I moved to Europe and one of them was that I could fly places for a few days for no other reason than to go to an event or explore. COVID lockdowns prevented that for my first year here and I found myself being the same me, just on a different couch and in Portugal. So when I saw that Dylan Moran was doing a UK tour, I went all fan-girl and bought a ticket for his show in Inverness, Scotland. I’d go in a day early, “have a wander” around the town, see the show, and fly back out. VERY EUROPEAN, right?
As I said, I have certain visions in my head, fully forgetting that I am an introverted wuss and commitment-phobe. While I bought the show ticket months ago, I waited until two weeks before to secure a hotel room and flights. Almost everything in my being wanted to stay home in my apartment, look at the water, and bask in my comfort zone. But… Dylan Moran. The chance to see him live was just enough to overcome my aversion to interacting with real people. I booked the Travelodge just down the street from the venue.
Pro Tip: Don’t book the Travelodge. Star ratings on Trip.com mean nothing. I thought, “Seems like a popular chain here. Maybe the Travelodges in the UK are nicer than the Travelodges in the US.” No. They are not. The staff was lovely. The carpeting was scary. There will be flashbacks.
But the location worked. It was just a short walk to Ironworks, a neat little venue that hosts live music (tribute acts are big here) and events. The doors opened at 7:15 and I joined the good-natured queue that wound down Academy Street and tried to use the couple in front of me as a windbreak without getting too close.
Ironworks supposedly has a capacity of 1,000 (standing) but I’d hate to be in that crowd. Seating for the show was set at about 400 and Moran filled the hall. There’s a balcony area that accommodated the overflow. I couldn’t see what was upstairs but I counted people going up and figured not more than 100 people were up there—so a sold-out show with a little bump. (As a former event promoter, I tend to count the heads.) Ninety-nine percent of the audience was not wearing a mask. I was finally part of the 1%. Yay.
The show itself was, of course, good in the sense that people enjoyed themselves and left with smiles on their faces. Moran did two very loose sets with his signature tone of aggressive confusion, quickly defusing anything that might be deemed offensive with his charming smile. He is aging with his audience—talk of kids, the effects of lockdown, relationships. His jazz piano bit is funny and self-mocking; the brilliance of the bit comes a bit further on as he tells a story, playing under while drawing no verbal attention to what his fingers are doing. Subtle. Almost unconscious.
While the audience got what they wanted (as it should be) I got the distinct impression that Moran did not. “What would you like to talk about?” he asked. “Black Books” someone shouted from the seats. “I don’t want to talk about me. That’s boring. I want to talk about you. What do you want to talk about?” (Turns out it was porn and a Tory MP who got caught watching porn in Parliament. So, porn.)
It’s hard to elevate the conversation when people come out just to drink and have a good time. Which is a shame and a loss because there were moments in the show where he strung together a series of words that were blinding in their poetry and truth. People don’t realize that comedy is a type of poetry: there’s a precision and order to the words that make it work, or not. Comedy works best when something is both funny and reveals a truth. The tightrope walk is illuminating important truths that you hope will create change in people… while still getting the laugh. Most comics wisely shy away from this. Do the act, get the check, go home. Some wreck their careers trying to infuse meaning and change into their acts. A rare few will find the way to connect the dots with a subtle hand.
At 50, Moran can still pull off boyish charm; his dazed and confused act will keep working because as you get older, the world makes less sense, not more. He could skate through effortlessly giving audiences what they want without risk. But Moran has the brain power and wit to elevate the conversation and connect those dots; whether he chooses to or not remains to be seen. But oh, it would be glorious.