Stephen Bailey: Can't Think Straight

comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
31231 large
Stephen Bailey
Published 10 Aug 2017

Camp, effeminate, flamboyant. These are the words Stephen Bailey doesn't want me to use to describe his show. Or, more accurately, he insists on them being starting points for an understanding of him, not the sum. A clear concern arises here of being pigeonholed as another camp comic, just the next in a long line of representations of homosexuality deemed acceptable by a mainstream straight audience.

Towards the end of the show he therefore delivers his message of self-realisation and tolerance. He notes he's come to terms with who he is, and doesn't care what others think. And he encourages the audience to do the same, seeing self-identity as something inescapable. Unsurprisingly, the audience cheers this exhortation for tolerance. 

That said, there's no denying that the comedy here is powered by the camp, effeminate and flamboyant persona he presents. Gags often hinge on his superficiality, and he flirts with male members of the audience, bitchily dismissing their female partners. This is not to deny there's skill in doing this effectively, and one of the problems of the long history of camp comedians is to undercut the talent of those who do it well. Stirling adds a class inflection—often referring to himself as "council"—that supplies an edge to the worldview he presents. So there are tales of working in supermarkets and all-inclusive family holidays that complicate the persona he's concerned about being trapped within. In a culture energised by debates about identity politics, his exploration of comic identity has considerable heft.