Tom Bosher reviews Rhod Gilbert’s “The Book of John” at Plymouth Pavilions
After a seven-year hiatus, Rhod Gilbert returns with The Book of John. After a drizzly day, unaided by election fever with rambunctious nutters festering in the streets of Plymouth, I’m ready to hear something that’ll make me laugh. He delivered. Leaping and bounding onto the stage, the 51-year-old commenced with a Welsh phlegm-filled fit of enthusiasm. He’s Rhod Gilbert, and he’s goddamn back. He began the show with confident interaction with the crowd, bouncing off a man with a “custard-gravel” voice and shutting down any hecklers with experienced finesse.
Gilbert began to explain his extensive break from stand-up; a rather intense slog is what essentially filled the time. The death of his mother after a cruel downward spiral of Alzheimer’s added on to his own mini stroke, weaved between years of frustratedly trying for children unsuccessfully. His mini stroke meant Gilbert could no longer safely drive, and so hired a driver; John. As a testament to his personal strife in life, the show revolved around using John the chauffeur as a wonky compass to find the path of comedy within the forest of melancholy. Ironically, John wasn’t great at using maps despite being a driver, and his short-sighted comments became the basis for his character facilitating a comedic sounding board for Gilbert’s despairing moments. From the Book of John that Gilbert referred to throughout the show, he commenced with a forty-minute argument around frozen prawns. Whilst poking fun at John provided an ample solution for dealing with such tribulations, joking about thickness can only go so far, and occasionally Gilbert would string out jokes a beat too long. A prime example being the slightly cold opening of the second half, centred around ejaculation jokes for the first ten minutes. Covering the visceral and uncomfortable but amusing experience of a sperm clinic, Gilbert is edging on vulgar, but still earns laughs.
“As a testament to his personal strife in life, the show revolved around using John the chauffeur as a wonky compass to find the path of comedy within the forest of melancholy.”
Morbidity was a common thread, from the 2016 celebrity deaths to the funeral of his mother, but he always brought it back to tickle you in the ribs, or occasionally pluck the heartstrings. Emasculation and virility were a focal point for Gilbert, touching upon falling short for a loved one in trying for kids and failing. Raising awareness for sincere causes ran throughout the show, from dementia to acknowledgement of the male body clock and the western world’s decrease in sperm count by over 60% in the last 40 years, as well as shyness and the social anxieties Gilbert himself deals with. His nervousness pervades only momentarily in a slightly awkward pacing, but you’re comfortable with it, he’s too busy making you laugh with his outlandishness and confident delivery.
“Rhod Gilbert is honest and authentic, not just spinning out stories from his life for a slapped knee but tapping into a more genuine source of mirth from misery.”
Rhod Gilbert is honest and authentic, not just spinning out stories from his life for a slapped knee but tapping into a more genuine source of mirth from misery. John, the driver, with a “Teflon coated conker” for a brain, facilitates the levity to a large degree, as well as Gilbert’s frustrated and angry skits. The outbursts of rage previously focused on the irritating minutia of daily life, but Gilbert has embraced the toll of maturity, and re-centres his comedy around subjects that he truly personally identifies with, and maintains his comic affect rather flawlessly.