Reluctant star Kitson earns the plaudits on comedy circuit

Daniel Kitson is one of the best comedians working today – but constantly rejects the limelight. Nick Ahad on his latest show.

About three years ago I interviewed comedian Stewart Lee and asked about comedians he admires.

"Daniel Kitson is the best comedian working in the world today," said Lee unequivocally.

He remembered watching Kitson earlier this decade, standing at the back of a room in Edinburgh.

"I was with another comedian and at the end of the gig we just looked at each other as if to say 'what's the point in us carrying on?' He's the sort of comedian that makes you feel bad, because he's doing what you ought to be doing, and doing it brilliantly," says Lee.

What was galling when Lee said this, was that I was two years into a five-year failed mission to interview Kitson.

Born and raised in Denby Dale, near Huddersfield, Kitson is still deeply reluctant to talk to the Press and refuses to play big venues.

As Lee puts in an article he wrote about audiences: "Kitson once told me that after his Perrier nomination, he was doing a run at the Soho theatre. Sitting in a toilet cubicle one night he overheard some of his audience at the urinals talking, didn't like them and realised he would have to refine his fanbase."

In 2002 – the year he grudgingly won the Perrier – Kitson cut off his trademark beard, making his publicity material defunct. In one of a tiny handful of interviews he did grant shortly after the Perrier, Kitson said: "It was unfair. No one asks you if you want to enter the Perrier Awards. Every step of the way, I was saying, 'I don't want to do a photo shoot, they make me itch. I don't want any of it'."

Kitson boycotted the after-show bash in favour of a takeaway and PlayStation.

To gain an insight into the comedian, I saw his latest show twice. Once when it was in an embryonic form, performed in a backroom of a pub – which seats about 60 people – on a rainy night in January and then again this week when it was presented as a finished version called The Impotent Fury of the Privileged at Sheffield City Hall.

I received the phone call from comedian and promoter Toby Foster on the afternoon of January 21. Foster is a Sheffield-based comedian who runs the Last Laugh Comedy Club.

He worked previously with Kitson when the two appeared in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, Kitson as Spencer and Foster as Les.

Foster is a helpful, jovial sort – the antithesis of Kitson – and knowing that we had been trying to speak to him for half-a-decade, rang to tip us off about the secret gig.

Foster introduced me to Kitson before the gig and I received nothing more than a mumbled hello. On stage Kitson is transformed.

His bearded face, thick-lensed glasses and his sometimes debilitating stutter do not make for an obvious stand-up comedian, but once on stage he has a charisma that ensure rapt attention from his audiences.

The reason why the Yorkshire-born comedian has become so popular among purists is because his comedy comes with a message. Indeed, the message remains entrenched as the very heart of his shows – the comedy comes from the fact that Kitson is a funny, erudite and sensitive soul.

In the back room of the Lescar pub, where Kitson performed his warm-up gig, he explained this was a practice run.

"It's for a show I'm taking to Australia when people will be paying more than a fiver to see me blow their minds," he says, encapsulating the qualities of a tinge of arrogance, easy charm and lack of deference to the audience that has made him so popular.

The story begins with Kitson in his flat, the night before being evicted thanks to "an ultimatum I made to my landlord which severely backfired". Watching out of the window, he sees an elderly woman who is injured and sets off on a musing about the state of the world.

The story is completed at the end of the two-hour set, with Kitson attempting to help the woman and coming across a group of teenagers who surprise him by also helping. He talks about encounters with groups of teenagers, the hope that children bring to the world and the fact that words can never fully express all the thoughts he has in his head.

He toys with telling a story about a florist at a train station where he finds the sign "no information given".

It is clumsy, but the beginnings of a comedic thought are there.

Five months later it has become a highly polished, brilliant expos of the bad attitude many of us share to those around us – Kitson's physicality used to perfection when he mimes a 47-year-old businessman desperate for the toilet, eyes dancing with the fear of a toddler, asking where the bathroom is to be confronted with a sign that says "no information given". What is most remarkable is that much of the material from the practice gig remains.

It is the reason it is easy to agree that Kitson is the best in the business.

The Impotent Fury of the Privileged is at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield on May 21 and Wakefield Theatre Royal on May 22.