Jack Dee: Off the Telly review, Churchill Theatre, Bromley: the grumpy persona's still a gem, but the jokes are too off-the-peg 

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Comedian Jack Dee
Comedian Jack Dee Credit: Clara Molden

Jack Dee has one joke and does it well. He has perfected it through 34 years in stand-up; he showed it off brilliantly on his sitcom Lead Balloon. Dee, 58, even makes it work on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue – an impressive feat, as the joke should be impossible to pull off on radio, because the joke is a face.

You know the one: that pained sigh-grimace that follows each punchline. It’s the look of a self-centred man endlessly disappointed by the world around him, whose misery stems from the fact he can look no further than his own problems. As comic personas go, it’s a gem. The problem, in his slick but flavourless new tour Off the Telly, is that as soon as he strays from it the wind falls from his sails. While griping about the signifiers of middle-class, middle-aged ennui – Abel & Cole veg boxes, A Place in the Sun – Dee raise a few smiles. But any attempt to satirise the world beyond his personal, peevish experience falls flat.

If you’re not a natural mimic (Dee isn’t), and you’re planning to do a vocal impression of Jean-Claude Juncker, Greta Thunberg or – in 2020, really? – Michael sodding Jackson, you’d better have something at least faintly original to say about them (Dee didn’t). If I sound a bit peevish myself, it’s because Dee is capable of being so much better. Marie Kondo should have been an open goal for him – her “spark joy” philosophy is the antithesis of his – but his abortive routine about her fizzles out almost before it has begun.

The high points tap into his persona’s myopic grinchiness. On Sunday evening, his description of grumpily making a Christmas cake, for instance – “I decorated it to look like sleet” – brought the second of this two-hour show’s five laughs. But during a good-ish routine about men who turn up at his door to sell leftover fish from the restaurant down the road, I couldn’t help wondering if he had acquired some of his gags the same way. Fancy a B-list comic’s bit about Theresa May dancing in South Africa, Mr Dee? Sure, the Best Before date is August 2018, but there’s life in it yet, honest.

Taking the stage at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre in a slate-grey suit, ash-grey shirt and coal-grey tie for this evening of medium-grey observational comedy, Dee had begun the show by stressing his local connections. He mentioned that he grew up in Petts Wood (one of Bromley’s leafier bits), prompting a few not unfriendly heckles of “posh boy!” If fans feel they can call out in reply at his gigs, it’s because having a firmly defined persona inspires intimacy.

Fans feel they know Dee already, can imagine themselves swapping put-downs in the pub. He’s a fixed quantity, and there’s something comforting about that. But it works only when he is being uniquely and specifically himself, telling his one joke, pulling his one face. Off the Telly feels off-the-peg; too many of these jokes could have been written by anyone, told by anyone. Too many have been already.

Touring until June 14; offthekerb.com