A standup show about cancer? It’s a far cry from the brand of comedy – wild overreactions to trivial irritants – that made Rhod Gilbert’s name. But what else can we expect the Welshman to talk about, after a diagnosis of head and neck cancer in 2022 upended his life? His first show since then (he got the all-clear last October) is an extraordinary affair – if not for its subject, now far from unique in standup, then for the combination of emotional candour and uproarious humour with which the 55-year-old treats it.

He starts the show (entitled Rhod Gilbert and the Giant Grapefruit, in tribute to the size of his tumour) by warning us of the sensitive topic to hand, likely to have personal relevance to many in the room. If that suggests we should lower expectations of gaiety (and I’ve seen trauma-comedy shows to which that applies), Gilbert swiftly dispels such concerns, with a barnstorming two hours that stint on neither the horrors of his cancer journey, nor on hilarity.

Sometimes, his humour makes the gallows look jaunty by comparison. The real-life terror peeks out from behind his routine about the ill-advised Google search that gave him six weeks to live. But the laughter is as often joyful as bleak.

Gilbert’s shtick has always been to inflate outsized, overthought scenarios from the most innocuous starting points, by force of his dismay alone. He does it again here with set-pieces about his wife’s potential love life after he dies, and about Michael Douglas blaming cunnilingus for his throat cancer. Cue a vivid act-out that imagines the film star’s tonsils “back here with a mulled wine and a sparkler” while the oral action unfolds.

The fun all this generates, and Gilbert’s sheer vitality on stage, feel like a gift tonight. OK, so he conceals the life lessons behind another rant at his dimwit driver John, who returns after starring in his 2019 touring show The Book of John. But our host is heart-on-sleeve here about his happiness to be alive, and how keen he is to help others in his recent predicament. It’s a knockout show with big laughs and a big heart.



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