Published Oct 15, 2016Dylan Moran's packed "Off the Hook" performance in Toronto at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was hilarious, whimsical, cerebral and warm. The last quality was perhaps a surprising one considering his — partially Black Books given — reputation as a cantankerous curmudgeon prone to self-destructive behaviour.
Moran seemed genuinely happy throughout the entire evening. While he wasn't without his customary chiding of the audience for things such as clapping, use of cell phones — which reached almost philosophical tones — and apparently inedible gifts left on the stage for him, he seemed positively light on his feet to the point of whimsy. His ostensible delight was unwavering despite the roaring thematic undercurrent of mortality permeating his set.
Death is of particular interest to Moran. Often going hand-in-hand with his material about reaching middle age — which seems more of a centre stage affair with every comedy special and tour Moran writes — Moran's take on impending death and nothingness is nihilistic to the point of parody. He relished pointing out the meaninglessness of life at every opportunity. The words "and then you die" were a common phrase. The death of his children's pets — referred to as handy introduction to grief for kids — whether they be hamsters or rabbits, seemed to take on far more significance than grappling with the death of human beings.
Moran's method of dealing with his own mortality seems to be grounded in his super-awareness of the mortality of younger, trendier people with beards. The thought that they too will grow old, become out of date, out of fashion, out of time, is a thought that brings a nearly delirious look of glee to his face.
Dylan Moran had no reservations about leaving his prepared material behind, launching into diatribes about just about anything, whether lobbed at him from the audience or conjured up in his own head, where according to him many people of different backgrounds and opinions dwell. He had very few qualms with maintaining or interrupting any sort of creative or performance flow he had. He never seemed to run out of words.
When in doubt he always turned to his classic Moran madlib metaphors, often just as surreal as the rather impressive paintings — his own — displayed on a screen behind him throughout his performance. His illustrations were often so evocative as to distract audience members from his live stage performance if only for a moment. The importance of soaking in every bit of Moran's performance became particularly pertinent when Moran stopped his set to tell someone on a cell phone that they were indeed at the performance in real time, and that "later never gets here, this is it."
Moran's performances have always been — to a notable extent — about perennial questions. Questions such as "what does it mean to get older? What is the meaning of life? How does one find happiness?" While Moran's answers are few and often are sarcastic, he never seems miserable no matter how curmudgeonly his persona gets. He seems hopeful.
Perhaps his hopefulness is what led him to avoid discussion of American politics in any serious sense, though he often maintains an apolitical stage persona. He seemed more preoccupied with universal human experience than politics, which can be rare in comedy so close to an American election. He was prepared to briefly and positively address queer and transgender issues, which met a very receptive audience, but if people were expecting Trump jokes — he admitted — there were few to none.
Moran killed in typical Moran fashion. He was imaginative, impulsive, dry and funny from start to finish.