Master contrarian Fin Taylor walks a fine line with mental health jokes – albeit with a few wobbles

Embodies contradictions: comedian Fin Taylor - Paul Gilbey
Embodies contradictions: comedian Fin Taylor - Paul Gilbey

Fin Taylor occupies a unique space in the comedic landscape, but it’s probably territory that more should have the courage to explore. Playing largely to over-educated, middle-class crowds, he’s a great lover of challenging their particular orthodoxies, and in previous shows has taken cheekily contrary positions in whatever debate feels the most current, whether that’s race issues, left vs right, or the #MeToo movement. This year, with a practised and rakish fluidity, he’s talking about mental health, and his own recent experience of becoming a father during the pandemic.

Does his new life mean he’s mellowed? Maybe, but it’s not necessarily a problem for a performer who embodies contradictions as a matter of course. He’s a liberal who can’t stand the left, a feminist with pretty rude things to say about women, a sensitive brute. And now, as a father, his daughter is “the one thing stopping me from killing myself and also the main reason I want to do it.”

He's always caught heat from both sides, and he clearly feels that’s the best place to be. On his primary topic of mental health, he’s internalised the talking points and understands the issues at play, but feels it’s his sacred duty to assault sacred cows. There’s something unmistakably retro about this position that makes absolute sense for someone who came of age in the time of South Park: a both-sides-ism that feels fresh almost because it’s so unfashionable.

But in some places, it lets him down. He’s satisfied with the odd rhythms of laughter that he provokes, with sections of the crowd hissing uncomfortably while others lose control (and it’s rarely the same people with the same reactions from joke to joke), however it’s a complex form of audience feedback. Perhaps sometimes a joke really doesn’t work, or really does go too far – it must be difficult to tell from his vantage point. Material about Hitler and World War Two fails to find a new angle on the night I see him at the Soho Theatre, and bits about hormonal women don’t get enough purchase to make it over the sexist uncle barrier.

After one contentious line near the top, he remarks that “when I go on tour I have a support act who takes the tension out of the room.” But obviously the tension is largely the point, and his most successful material riffs on the fine line he treads with his audience. At his best, as my date put it, “I’m almost cross with myself that I laughed so much.”

Fin Taylor continues on tour;