Darren Harriott: Roadman review – tentative steps to self-improvement

<span>Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

This isn’t the first of Darren Harriott’s shows to alight on a compelling subject for standup, then not dig too deeply into it. Should we celebrate the former, regret the latter – or just enjoy the company of a man who’s more about the convivial presence than the take-home? His new show Roadman – touring from September – contrasts the Black Country comic’s low-horizon background with where he finds himself today, and addresses his insecurity about his intelligence. Recently, he tells us upfront, he was on Celebrity Mastermind – “and I don’t identify as either of those things”. Good line; grabby opening: I’m in for the ride.

It’s a circuitous one. We veer far off-topic, via the 34-year-old’s thoughts on TV’s diversity drive (good in principle, bad on Game of Thrones) and why you shouldn’t drink wine with a straw on a first date. We’re more in the realm of the colourful anecdote than the well-hewn joke. But Harriott is a lovable companion on the journey, and the show gets more endearing as it goes on, reconnecting with the question of our host’s intellectual self-confidence and tracing his tentative steps towards self-improvement.

Those take the form of a salsa class, in which – a routine in search of a punchline, this one – he meets awkward with a Ukrainian dance partner. Then there’s his Japanese lessons, which Harriott innocently enjoys until aspersions are cast on his motives for participating. Compare all this with Dudley youth and young manhood, being introduced to wildlife by the impossibly exotic “animal man” visiting his school; and later suspended on the sidelines of the 2011 riots – after which his pals go to prison, and the standup-to-be heads off on a different route entirely.

It’s not Harriott’s style to labour his point or make claims on your sympathy. But I found engagingly open and unguarded the tale he tells of his journey from inauspicious beginnings, aspiring to “roadman” status and not much more, to where he is now – finally flourishing on a primetime TV quiz in the show’s cathartic finale. He may not dig deep, but he unearths a story worth listening to.

At Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, until tonight; then touring.

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