Leigh Francis – My First Time: the Bo Selecta star turns lowbrow into an art form

Leigh Francis – My First Time
Leigh Francis – My First Time

On the TV show Bo Selecta in the early 2000s, Leigh Francis took the concept of the rubber-faced comedian to a troubling new level, using a series of bulbous strap-on chins to create celebrity impressions that were silly and somehow obscene, an escalation of the grotesqueries of Spitting Image where the puppets seemed frozen between organic and inorganic life. Later, as Keith Lemon, the most successful of a series of pseudonyms, he put ITV-tier celebs through bawdy game show trials on Celebrity Juice. Throughout his career, he has rarely appeared as himself, almost always giving interviews in character.

But what’s this? A debut live tour called My First Time, and his real name and face on the poster? Is Francis stepping out from behind the masks to share a little of his inner life? In a word, no – unless his inner life is comprised entirely of gurning rubber celebrity freaks. Instead, this show (sub-headed a “work in progress” for the tour’s early gigs since I acquired a ticket) is like Bo Selecta turned up to 11: a churning carnival of monstrous stupidity and not half bad as a night out.

It’s fair to say that Francis’s sense of humour remains extremely coarse. Craig David was famously saddened and infuriated by his portrayal on Bo Selecta as a peregrine falcon-wielding Yorkshireman, but he got off lightly compared with the famous faces being dragged through the muck in this show. Ant and Dec, for example, are depicted birthing a live cow on stage. Shortly thereafter, Dec anally penetrates Ant with a National Television Award on the set of I’m a Celebrity, and you better believe that they make liberal use of the fart sound effect.

And yet, as grotty as it gets, Francis has retained his talent for whimsical, highly specific parodies that scratch the same itch as Vic and Bob’s sketches on Shooting Stars. His imagination routinely throws up scenarios that delight with their absurdist mundanity, like Amanda Holden’s grandmother struggling to get onto a high stool and necking a can of Pilsner Urquell, or the Gone Fishing parody in which David Dickinson and Beyoncé bond over the shooting pains in their anuses while fishing for rainbow trout.

To put this sketch show together, Francis has enlisted the talents of regular collaborator Adam Booth and the great Jess Robinson, who provides the secret sauce for this show in the form of some terrific musical impressions. He’d be wise to bulk up her part.

Sure, the sketches are sometimes uneven, but there’s enough of a turnover that you’re never too far from a decent laugh. The only sustained dip in quality comes in the second half, when Keith Lemon comes back to present a copyright-free version of Celebrity Juice using members of the audience as contestants. The format feels seedy without the shiny floors and TV lighting, and Lemon’s comment at one point “Imagine if it were Holly or Fern who were doing that” can’t have made anyone feel good. There are kinks to iron out, for sure, but this show has the makings of a couple of hours of boneheaded fun.

Until April 7; ticketmaster.co.uk