Freelance writer Kate Leaver writes…

The awesomeness of a Dylan Moran gig depends very much on his indulgent wine-guzzling.

The last time he performed in Sydney, he swaggered on stage, poured himself a glass of red and sucked on a cigarette between a snide, wry commentary that seemed to be genuinely off-the-cuff. This time, he swilled bottled water and broke off chunks of Lindt chocolate from its wrapper (delicious, but dull).

He was enormously entertaining – chortling and endearingly pudgy – but I was suddenly very aware that he’s a father now, and a responsible one at that. If he’s changed his wicked chain-smoking boozehound ways it’s great for his health, but a slight turn for the worse for die-hard Moran fans. Bernard Black (his character in Black Books) seemed to have left the building, and taken with him Moran’s darkest, edgiest material.

Every comedian worth his salt does a little research (or has it done for them, depending on their levels of diva) into the place they’re performing, and tailors their act to be a little more relevant. It’s respectful to our idiosyncrasies, but every time Moran dropped a Perth reference or did a fleeting impression of Julia Gillard, it felt deliberate and mildly patronising. Funny, but stilted, like he needed to reach his quota of Aussie references before he could move on to the good stuff. He took a jab at the Sydney/Melbourne quarrel over the best city, mentioned Woolworths and Coles, and said the names of a few suburbs for good measure. The crowd loved it, and laughed louder with each familiar reference – “Ha! That’s relevant! He knows where he is!” – but Moran ambled through them with an uncharacteristic blandness.

Local funnies quota reached, Moran smashed the second half. He let rip some of his wilder, sillier jokes and had moments of true, Old Style Moran genius. He trod some pretty standard comic territory – the difference between men and women, marriage, and being middle-aged. But somehow, with sardonic prowess, included walrus semen, vagina chandeliers and duck sex. Genius! True absurdist nonsense of the most superb kind. When he follows a silly thought or stumbles off on a ridiculous tangent, he can make you snort out your beer and swallow your Maltesers too quickly in amusement. He hasn’t lost his whimsy or wit, he’s just gained a more responsible, grown up wisdom that I thought he might’ve been able to boycott his whole adult life. He’s always rocked the childish but totally reckless and naughty persona, and he seems to have grown out of that a little. Don’t get me wrong, he’s wonderful – I just miss the Bernard.

If you see Dylan Moran while he’s in town, heckle him. It brings him to life, it gets him going. He’s still a great performer, but he just needs a rowdy, tawdry audience to coax the crazy back.

Dylan Moran is appearing at the Just for Laughs festival in Sydney, along with shows in Canberra and Melbourne.