Combining a background in rap music and lyricism with the world of stand-up comedy, Doc Brown blends a broad mix of ingredients to craft his unique act.
With appearances on Russell Howard’s Good News, Ricky Gervais’ Derek and the recent ‘viral’ music video Equality Street with ‘David Brent’, he’s currently surfing on an ever-growing tide of popularity.
Travelling to ‘The Comedy Box’ in Bristol as part of his new headline tour, Brown follows a long list of names that have appeared at this proving ground in the South West, many of which have now spring-boarded into the ubiquity of mainstream success.
With high demand for tickets outstripping available spaces for this opening night of his solo tour, the venue was packed around fifteen rows deep with eager punters nestled together in animated chatter. Somewhat ‘rough and ready’, the pub-décor and close proximity of the stage added a no-nonsense charm and raw immediacy to proceedings, leaving no distance, metaphorically or literally, between the crowd and the performers.
First to the mic was Russ Powell, a confident chap who bounded onto the stage and opened the night by announcing his unfortunate resemblance to a Japanese lesbian. From this enjoyably left field start, Powell generated further belly laughs from the room, most notably with his animated comparison of the varying personalities (and perceived nationalities) of pet animals. Short but sweet, his stint provided a great warm-up and set a highly entertaining tone for the evening.
With the wheels in motion, the stage was reset, the lights were dimmed and the crowd hushed at the mercy of Doc Brown’s booming introduction.
Announcing himself from backstage as “the best rapper you’ve never heard of” to loud laughs from the expectant audience, powerful entrance music fired up loudly and he bounced into the spotlight like a superstar, sending the crowd into an immediate frenzy of whoops and cheers, welcoming him as if he were the lead singer at a rock gig.
Seizing an immediate grip over the audience with his energetic charisma and strong eye contact, Doc Brown’s persona was infused with a sense of authority and ‘swagger’ that kept the room closely under his thumb.
Explaining his meandering journey into stand-up comedy as a forked path from a rap career that never quite reached mainstream success, the comfortable stage presence and confident entrance made perfect sense in retrospect. It didn’t take very long before Doc drew upon those rap skills to deliver the first of many trademark comedy songs, each accompanied by authentic beats that bellowed from large speakers flanking the room.
Being thoroughly literate in rap culture, yet having taken a definite sidestep into the world of ‘stand-up' (with his new output apparently often subject to puzzled scrutiny from his friends in the rap community), Doc Brown’s comedy has the very unique ability to both accurately pay homage to a culture and dissect it with a swift efficiency. He somehow manages to talk the talk, walk the walk and still brilliantly satirise that very scene he embodies.
One such segment excellently demonstrated how generic popular rap music has become. Not content with merely commenting that “it all sounds the same these days”, Doc Brown actually rapped a step-by-step framework for chart success, which even provided blanks in which the audience could add their stage name and favourite brand of car, champagne and clothes to generate an instant hit. Brilliantly constructed of neat rhythm and rhyme, this comedic template drew uncanny parallels to a surprisingly large amount of chart music from the past decade.
With his set built of entertainingly broad content including raps about cats, embarrassing nightclub dances and his ‘gangsta’ fighting tactics (kicking people in the balls, then running away), the quirky topics made for a brilliant parody of the boisterous rap-bravado with which they were delivered.
Whilst the roaring rap instrumentals and ‘punch-line’ choruses could perhaps appear two-dimensional at a glance, they worked well with resonant interludes and spoken sections to form a more complete package than his brief YouTube clips allude to. Over the course of the evening Doc Brown touched briefly on sexism, homophobia, racism and his own struggles with the pressures of modern life, without slowing the show’s momentum or burdening the experience with an obvious gear-change in tone. Large enough seeds were sown to provoke further thought, and it was these moments that offered depth to accompany what may otherwise have proved a fun novelty.
Despite the omission of the ‘Proper Tea’ rap and a couple of other popular online clips, his encore choice of the recent Comic Relief sensation ‘Equality Street’ (now touching on three million YouTube views) proved a great note to end on. A funny sing-a-long session started amongst the crowd, with the mass-recital of Brent’s “Biddly biddly bong!” line being particularly memorable.
Varied, exciting and underpinned with a measured social commentary, Doc Brown exceeded the hype that’s been building in recent months and offered a show as enjoyably rich as it was expectedly original. Hopefully avoiding a ‘difficult second album’, it’s exciting to think where he’ll grow from this promising foundation.