Micky Flanagan stakes out comedy’s middle ground – but has nothing new to say

Micky Flanagan
Micky Flanagan

Of the small number of comedians who could sell out two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo, only Micky Flanagan would have the gall to call those shows “extra intimate.” Fittingly for his status as one of British comedy’s heavyweights, he’s happy to take five years off between tours and, and still pack out huge venues up and down the country. Some of that rarefied air is represented in the way he plays nowadays: slightly distant, as though accustomed to communicating with us through the jumbotron.

Global pandemic aside, not much has changed for Flanagan since his last tour in 2017. He’s still cheerful, cheeky and cherubic, and still living in luxury, trying to grab his wife’s attention from the other end of his massive house with its massive swimming pool. “Well, what do you want me to spend it on?” he heckles his audience. His days as a member of the Young Socialists feel a long way away.

Apart from an early bit calling out the “stupidity” of Boris Johnson during lockdown, he’s dropped anything explicitly political, and is more preoccupied with shifting social mores, the bêtes noire of ageing male comedians everywhere. He’s not been on stage 10 seconds before we get the first risky accent and the question, “Is that allowed anymore?”

A lot of the topics that he covers in his routines (cancel culture, masculinity in crisis, trans athletes) are the same as you’ll get from almost every comedian in his demographic, and he doesn’t come up with any new angles, but new angles are not his stock in trade. This is comedy for people who don’t watch comedy; people who want to see the tiresome cultural discourse amiably dismissed and summarily dispensed with. And there’s certainly something satisfying about seeing Flanagan blow through talking points for a cheap joke, call it all a bunch of b------s and move on to something even less family friendly.

When he tells us near the beginning that he “likes to aim straight down the middle,” I don’t think he’s trying to be clever. In fact, he’s just explaining why he won’t be paying attention to the people sat in the circle. But it’s apposite all the same. Someone has to benchmark comedy’s middle-ground, and Flanagan fills the brief to the letter: a cheeky Cockney with a heart of gold, a blue streak and conservative tendencies, he’s close to an archetypal figure. “My wife says I’ve gotten boring,” he complains at one point. I’m tempted to agree.

Touring until Nov 10;