• TLS Staff

Repertoire: Of Showmanship and Spontaneity

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

James Acaster changes and challenges the way we look and deal with everyday things in this phenomenal four-part special


The chattering and cheering audience is now quiet and the show starts after Acaster does a long but not-so-long pause as if he is trying to read the minds of his audience. The show starts and as you are quickly engaged in one of Acaster’s stories, you forget about the concept of time as he keeps you hooked to his narrative.

Most of us are exposed to his four-part special through Netflix. It is a common occurrence: watching something on Netflix but periodically checking for texts and alerts. But Acaster’s show will make you forget that you have a life of your own that you should get back to. And that is because his narratives are about things that we can all relate to.

The four-part special is an experiment in comedy like nothing I have seen before. I wouldn’t consider myself a strong stand-up comedy critic or anything, but Acaster’s voice and persona are fresh and they take you on an adventure, to say the least.


The first of the four parts is called ‘Recognize’. Acaster enters wearing a green corduroy jacket as he stands in front of the solid green background. First of the four. And then, he kneels.

Throughout the show, he touches upon basic stuff like oven gloves, bananas, and taking revenge on a Pret-A-Manger employee to serious stuff like breaking up and drinking on his own.

All through the first part, he talks about being an undercover cop as he touches on all of his life’s problems while making snide and oftentimes dark commentary on some of the most basic things in life.

He riffs about his love for loopholes and mathematics and closing a cardboard box the right way. Acaster’s stories might seem hard to believe at first because most of them are not true; but there is a point, in all of the four parts where you actually sit there, as you look at him totally being himself and you think to yourself that maybe this actually did happen to him, given the way he is.


Acaster doesn’t shy away from acting out on stage. He throws a giant strop as he begs an answer to the question ‘how happy are you, with your smile?’ in the second part of the series. He begins with some ‘celebrity gossip’ which I am only assuming is a commentary on what people these days are interested in and how anything can make the news. He also touches upon jury duty and his days as a little Christian boy.

Throughout the second part, you get to see his whimsy up close and you get an insight into his thoughts. He is angry at massages and relationships and tries to power through the anger all along. But seeing him mad about the littlest of things makes you roar with laughter as the show starts to reach a peak.


Probably and arguably, the funniest of all the four, Reset is where the comedy peaks. Almost blending in with the mustard background, Acaster riffs about running a bogus honey company and going to Loughborough. He touches on the absurdity of the Brits and how their country is now, in his words: “a bunch of piece of shit.”

As Acaster shows how passport photography works, you see him for the showman he is.

From his conga dancing in Recognize and his stunt with the stage props in Represent, you see him occupying the whole stage as he dances on, turns into a praying mantis, etc.

Most of his jokes are witty and absurd but the observation is on point and yet the most laughs he gets is when he uses some gimmicks and makes you realize that he is the show.

He is spontaneous with his emotions and outbursts of them, and that anticipation is what fuels his show. You never know what is going to happen next, after one of his long pauses. Acaster plays with uncertainty as he keeps the audience on their toes at all times before they burst into laughter and applause.


The final stage is set with all three colors as the backdrop now. Acaster comes in blabbering on the stage as he startles the crowd and gets right into the show. Again, the uncertainty card is played flawlessly. In this last part, he strings together all the jokes from the previous parts and makes references that you would only get if you are dedicated enough and have watched everything before.

He talks about making lame jokes, lip skin, and shows off his bread research.

He puts on an unforgettable act that leaves the audience stunned. He creates worlds and scenarios out of thin air and takes us on a tour of his thoughts.

Toward the end, we feel like we know the man and are yet completely unaware of what he will do or say next. Will he crack us up or will he drop a truth bomb and leave us hanging in the tension.

Will he continue with his bizarre story like the one with ‘the goose and the sloth’ or will he use a gimmick and make us applaud for that smart move.

After watching the whole thing about five times, I understood how layered the comedy actually was. Every time I watched it, I noticed something different about him and his stories that made me laugh. Maybe it was the way in which he told them or maybe it was just some joke that was carefully weaved in.

But the more you watch it, the more you understand the genius of James Acaster. And when you try and look back, and maybe try to make sense of his stories, you know that there is none in them and maybe that is why you like them so much. And maybe that is why you Google Acaster and watch all of his appearances on all of the Channel 4 Comedy Shows and thank the Universe for this whimsical and downright funny mascot of a person.

Janaki Tulshibagwale

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