The show documents, using video footage and voiceover, the comedian’s struggle with manic depression and his unorthodox methods of dealing with it. It seems calibrated to shock and offend, yet it packs a massive emotional punch, and creates a rare sense of real danger – the feeling that something unspeakable is going to happen here at any moment.
During the course of the show, we are exposed to images of Noble engaging in self-harm and being urinated upon. Shaky camcorder footage shows him insulting strangers and introducing unsavoury substances into packaged products on supermarket shelves. He encourages audience members to send abusive text messages to his ex-girlfriend and his former producer, who ran off together. An alarming amount of masturbation is shown, and female members are the audience are handed vials of something they’d rather not get intimate with.
Is it gratuitous? Probably. I never had a yen to see a naked man in a bath pouring baked beans on his flaccid penis. What’s brilliant about it, though, is how piercingly it interrogates the notion of self-exposure –– the currency of our age –– even as it waves its ejaculating member in your face.
Is it defensible? Probably not. Ethically speaking, some of it, if the footage is genuine, is highly questionable. You could argue that at least all the unpleasantness is directed inwards, at the comedian himself –– the butt of the joke –– but that’s not entirely true. (What if someone actually bought and USED that tube of Vagisil?!)
Is it comedy? I’m not entirely sure. There are laughs in the show, and it’s billed as a comedy performance, but mostly we use laughter to dispel the horror and our apprehension of the even more dreadful things to come. My hunch is that this is anti-comedy in its purest, most visceral form. The only comparably traumatic experience I can imagine having at a comedy venue would be if a performance –– by a close friend, say, or a sibling, or my mother –– that was actually trying to be funny, and really desperately trying, fell flat on its face and shamefully died.
The difference here is that I’m glad Kim Noble Must Die exists, and that I saw it through, whereas I would pay money to avoid seeing an instance of the latter. It is, for all the questions it raises, a unique and brilliantly daring piece of theater. What it exposes, ultimately, is the performer’s own deep vulnerability. So in spite of all the discomfort one experiences as an audience member, this was one acclaimed comedy show at which I was genuinely thankful that the (anti-)funnyman onstage was not me.