Since the Perrier award committee finally woke up and smelt the coffee last year and bestowed their laurels on Al Murray on his fifth nomination (one with Harry Hill, four solo), the field seems more open than for some time.
The show with the greatest buzz surrounding it is Are You Dave Gorman? (Pleasance; venue 33), in which Gorman recounts his quest across Britain, Europe and as far afield as New York to simply to meet, and record his meetings with, other Dave Gormans. The result, as Fringe comedy continues to veer away from straight stand-up into narrative and thematic areas, is a hoot.
Gorman is both affable and acute, and much of his comedy arises from treating the premise and events with almost obsessive detail; as well as pictures of Dave with his namesakes and recordings of them, he documents his travels with maps, slides of his aeroplane boarding cards "in case you don't believe me", and graphs which plot his attempts to stay within what he considers a respectable average of "m.p.d.g." – miles per Dave Gorman. He offers money to anyone who will change their name to Dave Gorman, or name their child after him. This is not a prank; it's a quite different kind of practical joking on a grand and glorious scale.
Meanwhile, Rich Hall's musical sideline – career convict Otis Lee Crenshaw, in Scotland as part of a prisoner exchange scheme – has now expanded to the point of swallowing its creator, and it works a treat (Pleasance). Where Hall as Hall would sometimes come a cropper by taking a verbal riff too far or working himself into a corner, Hall as Crenshaw can digest it within his character and shamble free of such snares in a few seconds. The Crenshaw routine now incorporates material which is strictly out of character – would this tattooed Tennesseean who remarks that "To call my family white trash is an insult to polystyrene" really know that much about scientists weighing the planet, or even know the word "subtext" to apply it to Barbara Cartland novels? – but is sustained by ragged not-so-good-ol'-boy amiability.
Issues of ethnicity occupy a clutch of acts. At the Scotsman Assembly (venue 3), Russell Peters: Comedy Chameleon spends much of his hour onstage dealing with traits both of Indian immigrants (Peters is Indian-Canadian) and the folk he's encountered in various parts of these islands. He has a relaxed and winning style and can work an audience well, but sometimes his set seems too easy, as he moves fairly baldly from chunk to chunk; we are growing used to more subtle and complex structuring of comedy acts, which leaves Peters' straightforward North American approach a little adrift. At the Pleasance Omid Djalili: Warm To My Winning Smile shows much more teeth (no pun intended), as the cuddly Anglo-Iranian subverts the ethnic stereotype which has become his cinematic stock-in-trade. He has a tendency to apologise for some gags and resort to "disarming" motifs, but if he were to trust himself to be consistently as sharp as he obviously can be, he could become rather special.
In a field of his own is Robert Newman with Resistence Is Fertile (Scotsman Assembly). Newman has almost passed the point where it's useful to label him a comedian; over an hour and a quarter, he comes across principally as a decent, thinking man whose decency and thoughtfulness happen mainly to take the form of mercilessly taking the mickey out of the evils of corporatism and global capitalism. He occasionally loses the thread, but is buoyed up by a palpable sense of audience goodwill to hear both what he has to say and how he says it. Whilst his agenda is no softer than that of, say, Mark Thomas, it comes over as driven more by concern and sensibility than by any ideological impulse.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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