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Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing? | Soho Theatre | Review

Born in South Africa, Pierre Novellie was brought up on the Isle of Man. He tells the audience this, and miscellaneous other biographical details, because most of the venues he plays at are apparently much grubbier and have stickier floors than the comparatively pristine Soho Theatre, and in those scruffier places, some audience member, at some point, is likely to heckle him for being French. Except there is a difference between being French (that is, a citizen of the French Republic) and having a French-sounding name. The intellectual in Novellie proceeds to explain how Huguenots settled, in large numbers, in the Cape of Good Hope in the seventeenth century – the rest is, literally, history.

Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing?
Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing?

But it was a different kind of heckler that led Novellie to call this show Why Are You Laughing? – someone had told him they had Asperger syndrome and had reason to believe he (Novellie) had it as well. It transpires the audience member’s diagnosis was correct, and in another example of how this comedy hour turned out to be surprisingly educational (whilst retaining a humorous streak throughout), ‘Asperger syndrome’ is no longer used as a diagnostic term for autism, because it was named for Hans Asperger, who, it is alleged, cooperated with the Third Reich in some way. With the sheer number of comedians out there who have been diagnosed with autism in the last few years, Novellie is wondering, with justification, whether stand-up comedy is something that comes naturally to autistic people. Therefore, are audiences effectively laughing at the ramblings of neurodivergent people, and is that unkind?

It’s a broad hour of comedy, talking about topics as broad as learning to play a musical instrument as a child, and the differences in drinking culture between the UK and Ireland and – well, pretty much everywhere else. Probably my favourite series of recollections was about his trips to the barber – he uses the same one each time, despite their various peculiarities. A past keen interest in fantasy novels suddenly fell away, and Novellie is more than a little concerned that he just might lose interest in stand-up just as instantaneously. In all seriousness, I hope that doesn’t happen any time soon.

It’s difficult, at least for me, to disagree with Novellie on anything, given his convincing observations. If Novellie wants to dress smartly and be civilised on stage, in a world with so much anger and bitterness and, as another comedian observed, a lot of sportswear being worn by people who evidently don’t participate much in sports, that’s absolutely fine. As is the near total lack of audience participation – unusually, and for me, wonderfully – I didn’t hear anything about the lives of people in the front row. An agreeable and delightful night out.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Known for his award-winning observations which you might have enjoyed on The Frank Skinner Show, the hit podcast BudPod with Phil Wang, World’s Most Dangerous Roads and The Now Show.

He can’t stress enough that he thinks these thoughts are normal and reasonable – it’s you people that don’t make sense. He is the normal one, definitely, but that does raise an important question:

Why are you laughing?

Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing?
Tue 26 Mar – Sat 6 Apr
60 minutes
https://sohotheatre.com/

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