Standing ovation for Karl Minns’ Sortabiography at Norwich Playhouse

Karl Minns. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Karl Minns. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

Death, bullying, abuse, depression - if it doesn't sound like a laugh-a-minute, it's because you've not seen Karl Minns' newest, painfully funny one-man show about a life often full of pain.

Sortabiography is a blisteringly raw and honest appraisal of how what happens to us when we're growing up moulds the person we become as an adult and how while we can leave our past behind us, we can never fully escape it.

Karl walked the audience through his land mine-scattered childhood: his father's agonising death from Multiple Sclerosis when he was 10, cruel bullying at school, growing up as an outsider and the devastation wrought by a cruel stepfather.

And somehow, he made it funny - really funny - when of course in reality, it was anything but.

We discovered how Karl's comedy career began, as a defence mechanism and an escape, found out how The Nimmo Twins were born ('if I'd have known we'd have been so successful, I'd have thought of a better name') and his meteoric rise to fame which saw the Nimmos triumph at Edinburgh Festival, on TV and on national radio.

And then we found out how it all went wrong, the climax being a toe-curling interview with an author at Glastonbury Festival conducted by a hungover and ill-prepared Karl which led to his prompt sacking by the BBC.

As a Facebook meme might say, one must suffer the rain for the rainbow and dear Lord it hurled it down on Karl.

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We relived his attack in December 2007 on his walk home from a Nimmo Twins' show in the snow, a literal blow-by-blow account which brought home just how devastating an act that lasts no more than a minute can be.

We followed him to London in 2008 and the beginning of a 10-year healing journey that helped him realise he might just be good enough, he might just deserve the good things that happen to him and that he didn't need to relentlessly self-sabotage. It's a process that continues: he admits the voice of his stepfather is always with him.

The show ended as Karl took us to the present day as he wondered if it was brave or idiotic to tell the truth about who he is. It's the former, of course, but while it's easy for us to say, it's harder to believe if you're prone to being a slave to anxiety.

Everyone would have related to something in Karl's story: he and I bonded years ago over our fathers' deaths from the same awful illness and to hear him recounting the physical and mental decline of a parent which he witnessed as a child was hard to hear as it was my story too.

And that, I think, was one of the points of this show - to illustrate that talking about this painful, dark, miserable stuff that chains us to certain ways of thinking and behaving helps to free us from the shadow it casts over our lives.

Karl laughed us through his story knowing it was anything but funny, but by owning that misery and turning it into something so life-affirming and positive, he has proved that he's no longer a prisoner of his past with no hope of parole.

He admits the battle is ongoing, but stresses that it's ok to not be ok and that the first step to recovery is talking: to the people that love you or, in his case, to a sold-out theatre full of people (who also love him).

The standing ovation at the end of the show and Karl's visible emotion at having been accepted for who he really is rather than for the characters he usually plays on stage was just reward for this thought-provoking, clever, moving and - astonishingly, considering the subject matter - hilarious show.

And yes, Karl, you deserve this.

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