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Lee Mack

Guardian Culture 7th January 2010

Gulbenkian, Canterbury

Tribute shows to the Goons, the Carry Ons and Tommy Cooper may be all the rage – but the past isn't the only place where old-school comedy flourishes. Lee Mack has just had his sitcom Not Going Out re-commissioned, and recently extended this 96-date UK tour. But, give or take the rude words, his jokes are as much 1970s as 2010. And none the worse for it.

"Have you tried disabling cookies?" he asks. "Well, I once bit the legs off a gingerbread man." These are the gags Eric Morecambe would be telling if confronted with the modern world. And, as with Morecambe, there's a real bang for your buck here. No self-indulgence, no slack – just a pro playing hard for our entertainment.

From the brilliant opening, which sees Mack seal up a young punter in his magician's cabinet, and wheel him off-stage ("I did say, no kids!"), everything Mack does – every daft one-liner, every smirk, slip-up, and sprawl across the stage – is bent on laughs. He struts back and forth restlessly, as if geeing himself up, and engages in infuriating (to him) exchanges with the audience. Like the Irish comic Jason Byrne, he uses interplay with his crowd to establish a feedback loop of funny, until – as if he was comedy's King Midas – everyone becomes hilarious by dint of his speaking to them.

If I wasn't laughing so hard, I'd kick back and admire the craftsmanship. OK, some of the material is groan-inducing, and – very occasionally – crass. But the spirit is generous, and Mack so infectiously silly, he's easy to forgive. This is a piledriving celebration of idiocy, in which nothing is to be taken seriously – despite Mack's "this is a true story" protestations. Never mind the nostalgia: on this evidence, the end of the pier is still the place to be.

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