Five years ago, Sara Pascoe and John Robins made standup shows about their breakup – both were good, but it was Robins’ that stuck in the mind, and won the Edinburgh comedy award. Why? Because, miserable though it otherwise is, being dumped makes for a more compelling story than doing the dumping. And so it proves again here, as Catherine Bohart – another casualty of a comedians’ romance gone south – turns her heartbreak into very engaging comedy.
Compounding the anguish for Bohart was the backdrop of pandemic and lockdown against which she had to repair her wounded sense of self. This Isn’t for You tells the story of the Irishwoman’s journey from smug coupledom (the pair co-hosted a podcast about love and romance) via breakup and through a year of social isolation, in which her OCD spiked and her friends assailed her with terrible advice on emotional recovery.
Or was it terrible? There’s learning here, as – after a show that pours entertaining scorn on “learn to love yourself” bromides – Bohart comes to an understanding of her own role in her romantic downfall. But it’s lightly worn. Healing is a factor in This Isn’t for You, in that laughing this much about the relationship and its end feels like a kind of triumph. But the focus is on the 33-year-old’s indignities and poor choices as she abases herself for love, takes out her romantic rage on a phonecall to BT and plots revenge with a drill-happy dentist.
The mode is manic conversational, with the audience regularly consulted on the rights and wrongs of Bohart’s behaviour. The jokes are good, perhaps because the show underwent several rewrites as Bohart moved from bliss to desolation to acceptance without ever being allowed near a stage. On talking to herself throughout lockdown (“if you find yourself saying, ‘oh really?’, stop …”) and on the need for social rituals to terminate friendships, the show is as sharp as it is tender. Yes, inside stories of being dumped seldom struggle to engage an audience. But Bohart rewards that engagement with acuity, good cheer and a little hard-won wisdom in a show that’s worth holding on to.