Merchant at the height of his career in Highgate gig

Stephen Merchant, co-creator of The Office and Extras, re-discovered stand-up at Jacksons Lane theatre in Highgate this week.

His one-man show designed to make “money I don’t have to share with you-know-who” is a work in progress. He opened by asking the audience what should be in it and what he should wear for the DVD.

Merchant, 35, is about as successful as any TV writer could be unless they’re Ricky Gervais. Comparisons between the pairs individual comedy styles are inevitable but revealing.

They both give the impression success is somehow their revenge on the world. But whereas Gervais can be indulgent, barely disguising his giant ‘I told you so’, Merchant is more self-effacing. In fact the thrust of his show is to reveal how little his life, more specifically his sex life, has changed.

Merchant takes us back to his teenage years and creates beautiful comedy moments around his Casio calculator watch and Blue Peter badge - both were seen as potential remedies to sexual failure. Both of which failed.

He tells us he felt insecure about his height, now 6 ft 7, and to avoid standing out: “I spent most of my time leaning against things or in the distance.”

As he grew even taller little improved. Commenting on night clubs he says: “Bouncers want to let in people who look like they are going to provide some glamour, not I.T. support.”

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He was asked by a woman if he was staying in that area of the club for a while “because me and my friends have arranged to meet back at you.”

The best moments come in his men vs. women routine which is faultless. But when talking about sex he almost borders on self-hatred.

He confesses to, mid-intercourse, looking like a Victorian child-snatcher and judging a woman for wanting to have sex with him, “which is so anti-Darwin it’s dangerous.”

There are a few jokes about his experience of media fame which focus on him being mis-represented - “If I had seen her I would have ogled her but I wouldn‘t have got caught”- or ignored.

But most of his act is reassuringly down-to-earth, including pet hates like noisy food in cinemas. His performance of a heart-breaking cinematic speech delivered to a mate eating pop-corn is one of several moments of pitch perfect acting and mime.

While he may not have the same star persona as Gervais, Merchant is every bit the talent and is in better touch with the British public. Gervais’ recent stand-up has shown that too much sarcasm can turn the irony back on the performer. Whereas Merchant appears happy to have the joke on him, as long as it’s funny.