An absolutely brilliant hour of observational stand-up comedy that flies by

By: Mar. 28, 2024
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“Why are we like this?”

Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing? has an interesting question for a name, but the reason he is asking does not actually come into play until the end of the show. Novellie has a French first name, an Italian last name, is South African and moved to the Isle of Man, but, “there’s no time to explain that,” so that’s all of the introduction we get to the comedian before quickly moving on with the show. But, actually, we learn a lot more about Novellie than one might expect from this brief segment. 

We begin by learning that Novellie is, to the disappointment of some, more passionate about archaeology than sport - I, being a history nerd, was quite thrilled and loved all of his references spread throughout the show. He actually went to Cambridge to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Studies and grew up with a love for fantasy novels, though that quickly disappeared when he had the realisation at the age of fifteen that everything he was reading was made up, leading him to question why he was putting so much time into things like learning about the Elves from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (there’s a fantastic jab at The Silmarillion that had me in tears!). 

As an American who moved to the UK just about a year and a half ago, I am still learning about the cultural differences between the two places, and Novellie actually has a fantastic segment about British versus American crowds. It is interesting to think about how the average British person will go to an unknown comedian’s show with a strange desire to see them fail, while Americans tend to go in with the belief that the comedian has already earned their spot and is on their way to making it big in Hollywood.

I also loved the comparison between American comedy clubs having a two drink minimum and Novellie wishing that there was a drink maximum in the UK. There is then a monologue about the UK’s obsession with drinking and even ends with a surprisingly beautiful speech about crimson sick, which Novellie considers to be “a little monument to hubris.”

One of the funniest segments in the show is when Novellie tells us about his experiences with a barber that appears to be a haven for hipsters based on the decorations, but the barbers are far from hipsters. When Novellie asks where his barber is from, he gets the answer of “Persia,” which leads to Novellie pondering how to tell the man about the geopolitical changes that have occurred (the modern name of Iran has been official since the 1930s).

Finally, towards the end of the show, we reach the question that Novellie asks in the title of his show - why are we laughing? Without going into too many spoilers, Novellie discusses his autism diagnosis at the age of 31 and how, in a strange way, it has taken the things that he believed made him unique and trapped them into a book by Tony Attwood that explains autism. He tells us about his worry that he will lose interest in stand-up, as he has a tendency to operate like a light switch, his interests switching on and off with him unable to control it. Novellie then begins asking more questions, and not just about his own life, leading to some surprisingly sombre moments in a night of laughs.

Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing? is an absolutely brilliant hour of observational stand-up comedy that flies by and leaves you not only in tears of laughter but asking some questions about when it is okay to laugh at people. 

Pierre Novellie: Why Are You Laughing? runs until 6 April at the Soho Theatre.