A cunning naïveté

Kingston-upon-Hull is one of those cities that likes to celebrate its dialect. When I first visited, arriving in a small, wooden-hulled, retired fishing trawler, we went to drink off our sea legs at the Minerva. This is an iconic pub overlooking the marina, one of the first sights to greet anyone reaching Hull up the Humber, and between it and the quayside there are a number of decorated benches, possibly installed as part of the City of Culture celebrations which were ongoing at the time. These are inscribed with various items of Hullensian dialect, by means of which the interested visitor can learn to enquire where their interlocutor might be ‘gern on yerolidiz’, or to inform them that they arrived in ‘Ull by bert’, although they could have easily come by car as ‘there’s nur snur ont rurd,’ before they both go back to playing with their ‘ferns’. Although Lucy Beaumont’s accent is far from broad, we were only a couple of sentences in to Space Mam, her show on this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, before I realised she was a Hullensian.

The central plank of Beaumont’s schtick is an elegantly cultivated naïveté, not dissimilar to that deployed by the late Caroline Ahern in her Mrs. Merton persona, although in a stand-up routine the obvious dialogic mode for its elaboration is unavailable, and she produces it instead through ironic narratives. The result is, for me, a more subtle and nuanced effect, which affords her a set of very specific satirical angles on aspects of contemporary culture, particularly around her interests of social class and parenthood. She has evidently been away, developing her career as a comedian, and living in more risibly cosmopolitan parts of the world, and takes her return to the city of her birth as an opportunity to explore the contrast between acquired and inherited social class, suggesting that she is now middle-class (because she likes things like avocados), while still wanting to say ‘fuck you’ to a young boy playing with her daughter when he informs her that his name is ‘Arrow’.

Successful standup of this sort is pretty much equal parts delivery and intelligent analysis, and Beaumont has both of these down. She has subtly exact comic timing, and a performance persona that is both very charming, and more obviously confected than that adopted by many comedians, seeming to continually both seek and assume a shared perspective with her audience. She is also clearly a very sharp mind, and offers, in a rather self-effacing way, some interesting and amusing insights into the ways that the culture of social class shapes our social lives and the ways in which we relate to our children, and the ways in which it is transmitted. If you want to know why she’s funny, you’ll have to ask my therapist (I don’t have one), but other than observing that she has clearly done a hell of a lot of homework, as both writer and performer, I can only say that she really does it for me.

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