‘Not guilty!’ The judge’s verdict is a relief, so why does it rankle Simon Munnery? 'Not guilty' hangs over you, he says. It still has the word 'guilty' in it. ‘You know, we have a word for people who are not guilty…’ When Munnery tells a joke he makes you feel as if the topsy-turvy logic of the punchline was lying around just waiting to be discovered, like the laughter was there all along and you weren’t paying close enough attention.
Trials and Tribulations is split in two. The first half deals with the comedian’s run-ins with the law. The second leaves us wondering what a tribulation is. According to Munnery, tribulations vary. A tribulation could be a first sexual encounter in a graveyard. It could be parody script inspired by your hatred of the Archers (I reckon this is tribulation at a push). It could even be that one time Steve Coogan thought he was having a heart attack and you had to rush him to hospital in your car only to find that you’ve been recast in his memoir as a character who’s more ‘relevant’ to the over-arching sweep of the narrative.
Munnery doesn’t seem put out. He’s effortlessly funny. Some comics will go to pains to convince you they’re the main character of the story. Here you wonder if Munnery is even the main character of his own. People like Coogan, for instance, would rather take him for someone else. The judge won’t even give him ten minutes on the stand. Years ago, in another case of mistaken identity, Munnery is mugged in the club toilets (clearly a tribulation) for wearing a suit to a jungle night and looking too much like high-roller around the resident drug dealer. Today he’s wearing his arm in a sling with a heat patch on his shoulder after a stint at the hospital. I’m sure it’s not a bit, but it plays into the slapstick of man at odds with the world and it’s very entertaining.
Jokes don’t care for narrative convenience. Like a good pun, mistaken identity can come in different forms and Munnery is a master of the bait and switch. The Archers parody has a few of these sorts of tricks - a great bit of fun, if entirely left field. One man is sunning his bare arse in the front lawn, cheeks pointed to the sky. ‘Aren’t you worried,’ says another bloke, ‘that someone will try and park their bike?’ Sublime.
Even the gags that fall flat, like the one about the Alsatian and the German Shepard being excellent co-workers at the sheep farm, find a murmur of laughter. (Stewart Lee likes that one, says Munnery. It’s not clear whether this is an explanation or a rebuke.) I don't mind that he takes a moment to pick apart the joke. The man just has funny bones.
A disarmingly casual yet playfully frenetic comedian, Munnery is a dab hand at this. There are so many different kinds of jokes packed into this show. One-liners, silly songs, anecdotes that are funny simply because Munnery is. It’s a pleasure to see his stand-up live.