Nature or nurture? You might think you know who you are, and why, but veteran stand-up Mark Steel‘s latest show proved it might not be as clear-cut as you thought. The Radio 4 favourite and cricket fan grew up in Swanley, in Kent, knowing he was adopted, and in Who Do I Think I Am? he told the tale of how he found out the strange truth about his mother and father.
While there was a strong undercurrent of Steel’s politicised material – he’s an ardent left-wing comic and activist – this show was a deeply personal couple of hours which concentrated far more on storytelling than his usual output would suggest.
The contrast between this latest effort and his typical style – Radio 4 acolytes will be familiar with it from topical mainstay The News Quiz and his geographical musings on Mark Steel’s In Town – made it particularly interesting, and rewarding too. His route to discovering his parents’ identities sounded far-fetched at times, by his own admission, but it was told with great honesty and panache; an effortlessly charming delivery which still gave room for his angrier side, but not at the expense of a truly touching story.
Steel was able to mine plenty of strong comedic material out of the details and foibles of both his natural and adoptive parents, mixing wry observations with surprising self-discovery. It was all played with an impressively straight bat; fitting given the bizarre events which he recounted to us, and an approach which seemed to underline the unlikely comedy of the situation.
While not quite the feelgood story of the year, Who Do I Think I Am? was an oddly heartwarming story of personal discovery, peppered with excellent jokes and self-deprecation, selling the human moments but always looking for a gag to cut through even the merest hint of seriousness or treacle. It’s a fascinating personal history and a revelatory slice of comic storytelling.