JThe comedian who reconsiders his life in the light of his new parenthood is a genre apart these days; In the past few months alone, I’ve seen Suzi Ruffell and Travis Jay deliver sets that do something similar to Harriet Kemsley’s. Apparently, Honeysuckle Island asks the question: what can Kemsley do to make the world a better place – less sexist, less shameful – for 10-month-old Mabel to grow up in? But that setting is never entirely convincing, in a show whose effervescent host seems more excited about the next blue gag or #NoFilter overshare than its do-for-my-daughter premise.
Fair enough: his dirty comedy is rendered with winning delinquency, with Kemsley the overgrown child-woman and all those rude words and ideas his shiny new toys. Recent pregnancy and childbirth provide a treasure trove of material for a comic that loves to poke fun at idealized femininity and its own distance from it. So here we find the 35-year-old maniac comparing childbirth to anal sex, probing the public’s sexual health and causing anaphylactic shock in pursuit of Kim Kardashian’s beauty ideal.
It’s a hoot, this stuff, played as an uprising of the outsider (endowed, dissolute, flesh-is-weak) against the impossible standards by which women must measure themselves. Similar territory, then, to Kemsley’s 2019 set, Slutty Joan, who delivered a punch that Honeysuckle Island lacks. The title alludes to an imaginary place imagined by 11-year-old Harriet, represented here by a cardboard box containing objects from her youth. Each one evokes reminiscence, about body image anxieties, for example, or the male gaze – issues this new mum hopes her own daughter won’t have to deal with.
But the device feels grafted onto a show that – to hell with thematic discipline! – careers scattered between good-natured crowd-work (which Kemsley is very adept at), jokes about her post-pregnancy body and amusing text exchanges with a worryingly vague babysitter. As a reflection on this new mom’s ideological commitments to her toddler, this won’t get you through the door of the nursery. But in Kemsley’s hands, it’s still a reckless pleasure.