One of the many curses of getting older is recognizing that life, whether we want it to or not, moves forward and we have more experiences and, undeniably, get older. And for some of us as we get older, we wonder who we are. England’s Daniel Kitson’s latest piece, After the beginning. Before the end. is a nearly two hour set that barrels through the field of genius pondering some of life’s larger queries, are we who we think we are? what exactly do other people think of us? are we living up to our potential? Kitson is equal parts anthropologist, misanthrope, narcissist and all comedic genius.
I had no idea what to expect last night at the Barrow Theater because I had never seen Daniel Kitson before. Having only seen a couple poor quality YouTube videos, I was pretty much a neophyte. Apparently, I am in the minority as all of Kitson’s shows are sold out this week. Before the show started I played my favorite game “count the beards” (39) as I looked around the Barrow Theater at Kitson’s demographic. I also listened to the guy behind me try to explain Kitson to his female date. I was hoping to pick up something I had not already read on the web. I didn’t.
It’s hard to explain Daniel Kitson and yet it’s not hard to explain him. He’s often categorized as a stand up comedian, yet in After the beginning. Before the end. he remains seated. Obviously, this places the piece more in the monologue world than the stand up world (apparently sitting must denote a more cerebral experience and therefore a different moniker). But frankly, it is more monologue than stand up. Certainly there are elements of stand up in it but to call it only that would be somehow incorrect (and not because he is seated). However, this also isn’t a straight monologue, although there are elements of that in there. It’s not like this is some ethereal performance/spoken word kind of thing either. So what is it?
It’s genius at work.
What Daniel Kitson gives us with After the beginning. Before the end. is the perfect collision of stand up, monologue and spoken word.
It’s a matter of time before someone draws the parallel, if they haven’t already, so let’s deal with it now. While we may be able to draw a line from Daniel Kitson to Spalding Gray, it is too pedestrian and unfair to say he is “like” him. Daniel Kitson is not like Spalding Gray. That is neither good nor bad, it’s just a fact. That would be like saying Richard Pryor was like Lenny Bruce. Of course, the line between the two exists, but they are hardly the same. So there, onwards please.
Kitson spends a lot of After the beginning. Before the end. reflecting on himself and his life so far. And this is a good thing because in so doing he has made us realize just how normal we all may be. And there is a certain amount of insanity in our normalcy. But then, as Kitson points out, what is normal and what is proper are two entirely different things. You’ll have to see him to find out the difference.
He ponders such things as ” am I a dickhead”, the patriarchal misogyny in thinking the moon cup is disgusting (Google it, it is), the joy and pure evil of calling someone a “piece of shit” to their face. In lesser hands, these concepts would be just stand up schtick. In Kitson’s, they become more anthropological studies punctuated with jokes. Kitson’s careful examination and explanation of his material and thought process is as nuanced as it is hysterical. Above all else, it proves that the smartest and best comedy has no formula or template.
Unfortunately, as is often the case here in America, the strength is often the weakness.
Sure Kitson will play to sold out smaller houses in the major cities, and that’s great. Personally, I think it would be great if he sold out shows in smaller cities. Then maybe I could begin to restore my faith in the ability of our country to think. But, as I am sure he is all too aware, we American’s don’t much like smart or intelligent humor and we certainly don’t like any humor that may be rooted in humanity and require thought.
Our comedy is firmly entrenched in the puerile.
Like any good work of art, After the beginning. Before the end. is based in truth. The truth that “when we are born we are 100% potential and 0% experience and at death we are 100% experience and 0% potential”. Accompanied by an often too loud tonal soundtrack, Daniel Kitson takes us on the the journey in between. He explores some of the half-truths we live by, the misleading concept of remembrance, the false idea of hope and shows us how hilarious it can be.
And look, After the beginning. Before the end. is NOT egg head pretentious Brit humor. Just because I used the word “art” doesn’t mean Kitson’s humor isn’t accessible, it is. It’s only requirement is an open mind and the desire to think. Unfortunately, American culture continues to prove time and time again, that we don’t hold open minds and thought in very high regard.
Daniel Kitson is performing After the beginning. Before the end. all week at The Barrow Theater in New York City.
All shows are sold out.