With musical accompaniment, Mo Gilligan delivers a surprisingly well-observed stand-up special that’ll definitely resonate with anyone who lived the kind of life he’s talking about.
Observational comedy appeals to us because we’re needy and arrogant. We want to feel, on some level, like we could do the comedian’s job; that it’s just a case of standing there and pointing out obvious things, which of course it isn’t. But we also want to feel like we’re not alone. We want to be convinced that there are other people just like us, who saw and did the same things as us, whose parents and teachers behaved in the same way. Only rarely do I feel like that. As it happens, though, I very much felt that way during Mo Gilligan: Momentum, which debuted on Netflix today. Gilligan’s a young-ish comic with a youthful act. He’s only two years older than me and comes from the same working-class single-parent background. When he describes his mother and friends he could just as easily be talking about mine. My school, my neighborhood, my family weddings, my friends, my group chats, my nights out — they all seem pretty similar.
Gilligan is black, which I’m not, but he never really mentions it. He grew up poor, which I did, but he scarcely mentions that either, other than in funny, relatable observations about, say, pocket money seeming like an exclusively middle-class luxury. When he mentions leaving high school to go to college, he also mentions that when he did he’d be on big money from education maintenance allowance (EMA), a £30-a-week government payout for the children of parents on low incomes that subsidized most of my teenage partying. I’ve never heard any other comic mention it.
You get the idea.
Most of Gilligan’s material is like this. It’s almost all, in some way, informed by matters of race and class, but those things are self-evident rather than self-pitying. He assumes most of the audience will understand what he’s talking about, and he’s right. He isn’t on a moral crusade — he’s simply identifying the aspects of his life that other, similar people will be able to identify in theirs. The popular criticism of this kind of comedy is that there aren’t any jokes in it, and that’s partly true. But Mo Gilligan: Momentum, which also features a live band and bits with musical accompaniment, seems to relish that. It’s a nostalgic, performative evocation of growing up in a very specific working-class way during the nineties and the early-00s, and unapologetically so. I enjoyed being spoken to and for; having my own experiences narrated in a way that everyone present could relate to.
Some stuff, of course, annoyed me. Gilligan has a tendency to laugh at his own jokes, and not always in a way that feels natural. He also begins virtually every set-up with some variation of “Do you remember?” or “Have you seen?” in regards to stuff that he knows full well the entire audience remembers and has seen — that shared understanding is pre-loaded into the bit. But these are minor niggles in a musical stand-up special that I was very much surprised by, both in terms of how much I liked it and how enjoyable of a performer Gilligan is. I’ll keep an eye out for his next one.