It said a lot that the theatre was packed out. People kept flooding in: some had to sit on the stairs, and it was definitely the most excitable audience I’d seen at a late show thus far. Clearly, Ken Cheng was, and is, a pretty big name around here.
Big enough, in fact, to have his own support act. Colin Rothwell came on to warm up the (already very warm) crowd and gave us a short and sweet set. This was enhanced by the presence of the screen behind him sporadically switching between the titles ‘Best Dad Ever’ and ‘Get fuckin hyped for Colin Rothwell’, of which Rothwell appeared genuinely oblivious.
Then it was time for ‘the best’ and ‘only comedian [he’s] ever opened for’ to take to the stage. As Cheng briefly explains in his Preview interview, the narrative of the show stems from the Toblerone packet he once found in his dad’s room with the words ‘best dad ever’ written on it. He began with what appears to be a signature opener: ‘A few problems with this…’ and went into a brilliantly pedantic analysis of said phrase being written on such a ‘transient product’. Structurally he also dropped in key points within this section that he would recall later and the PowerPoint was a constant source of entertainment (which is a sentence I never thought I’d say).
There was a great balance of material, from a bit about ‘things colour-blind people can’t enjoy’ to the sugar vs. fat debate, though he always came back to the theme as we got an endearing insight into Cheng’s childhood. Namely: his relationship with his mum, described as a hoarder who was always keeping things that ‘might be worth something someday’; his ‘weird hobby’ of enjoying Microsoft Excel – it being weird that he enjoyed it from an early age/at all; and that he had a childhood obsession with lambs. Specifically lambs, yep. He brought on his favourite lamb toy ‘Dirty’ and we were even privy to an exclusive extract from his novel ‘Lambs and Teddies’, which I’m now really hoping will materialise into the franchise he once dreamed of.
This then led us seamlessly into the more serious part of the set. You realise how expertly Cheng had been hinting at it throughout – not with cues or prompts, just a beautifully natural sense of structure. Whilst still obviously making jokes, classing his Dad’s sudden move back to China as one of those ‘events that just pass you by – like the super moon,’ you knew that you were being told something real and important.
My only criticism here were the occasional lulls and the fact that it did run on a bit longer that planned, owing to the self-confessed ‘riffing’. But, disregarding that, Ken Cheng: Best Dad Ever was one of the more brilliant shows I’ve seen. Ever. Truly clever comedy delivered with integrity, individuality and with a direction that was both meaningful as well as side-splittingly funny. So if you weren’t a member of the sell-out crowd then you should be next time because I predict now, without a doubt, that those tickets will ‘be worth something someday’.