Many may struggle to sympathise – far less laugh – with “Strictly Come Dancing love rat” Seann Walsh, who in 2018 snogged his married partner on the show and was accused of coercive control by his betrayed ex. But there’s no doubting the whole affair deeply affected the 36-year-old, who toured three years ago addressing its fallout, and addresses it again at this year’s fringe. Is that because, as Walsh testifies here, it has taken that long to overcome the most traumatic experience of his life? Or because he’s in a deep public relations hole, and it’s going to take a lot of digging to get out?
It would be hard to stay cynical after watching the show, which rejoices in the title Seann Walsh: Is Dead. Happy Now? Notwithstanding the damage it wrought, the incident has been a boon to his comedy, which now comes with scars, vulnerability and higher stakes. “The entire country hated me!” he screeches, kicking off a routine that sounds the depths of his depression after his stint in the tabloid stocks. It throbs with feeling, this section, be it self-recrimination as Walsh rakes over his mistakes and losses, or the humiliation of contracting PTSD from a gameshow.
But the meat of Happy Now? lies elsewhere, in an account – remarkable that Walsh has withheld it until now – of growing up with a father addicted to heroin. It’s an eye-opening tale, of a childhood in a house without a table, with a father always high or coming down, whom until very recently Walsh never knew clean. As standup content, it may not be relatable (Walsh has great fun imagining Michael McIntyre’s “junkie dad” routine), but it is luridly compelling, and undergirds Walsh Jr’s own tales of no-boundaries behaviour, and his recent struggle to give up alcohol.
On that subject, our host is bitterly funny, differentiating the “fun” he used to have with the “nice time” he has now. And there’s a great punchline to a story about being asked, of the booze, “What did you replace it with?” Post-Strictly, Walsh expresses a hard-won caution here about the whole idea of “I’m back”. Fair enough – but his standup is richer than ever.