Comedy audiences, Se les dijo, son demasiado sensibles en estos días. No tan, dice Alfie Brown: son justos, que no es lo mismo. La verdadera sensibilidad sería la apertura a los matices., to the grey areas between the black-and-white pieties of our age. Step forward this 34-year-old contrarian, raging for a decade now against woolly thinking and moral squalor with the devilish twinkle of a man who absolves himself of neither. Sensitive Man is one of his best sets yet, a without-fear-or-favour grapple with our current moment that comes, if not to slaughter sacred cows, then to give them a little tenderising.
The show is also a status update on the life of Alfie. We get bulletins from his family life with fellow comic Jessie Cave, whose characterisation here is hijacked by a devious running gag about the politics of performing other people’s accents. We get a splendid tirade about youth being wasted on the young, that finds Brown looking askance at complacent twentysomethings “ostentatiously waving around wads of time”.
What a phrase! And there are more elsewhere, and more knotty thinking too, in a show whose material often feels fresh and under-explored. Sometimes that’s because it’s bespoke to Brown – like the routine about his relationship to Cave’s devoted fans. Sometimes it’s because Brown is taking on, as others might choose not to, the creeds of our present moment. One section interrogates the popularising of the term gaslighting. Another finds him infuriated at the cult (as he sees it) of male mental health and what Brown, bipolar himself, depicts as the devaluing of the currency of depression.
Part of the thrill is how counter these routines run to right-thinking orthodoxy, sin que (to my mind) shading into the reactionary. It helps that Brown’s act-outs and image-making are so vivid. A further routine, about white privilege, threatens something equally provocative, then runs aground – although he later revives the idea to teasing effect. Imperfectly integrated into all this, a subplot about his need for the audience’s love, compounded by the Covid lockdown, feels tacked-on: vulnerable is not Brown’s most persuasive mode. Twisty and thoughtful social satirist, aunque: en esta evidencia, few do it better.