E4 Udderbelly / George Square Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2006
**** / *

This year's Fringe scandal, such as it is, has been based on a rather factitious and uncomprehending newspaper article alleging on the basis of two remarks that anti-Semitism is once again broadly socially acceptable. One of the supposed offenders is Reginald D Hunter, a gentle giant from Atlanta, Georgia who is as thoughtful a comedian as you will ever see. Hunter raps with his audience in the pre-hip-hop sense of telling it like it is, and uses humour to enliven the path towards understanding. The night I saw him, the anti-Semitism story had just broken, and he spent the first fifteen minutes of his set explaining that his constant themes are freedom and awareness. I was sitting next to a reviewer from the Jewish Chronicle, who showed no problems at all with this material, for Hunter makes it clear that he regularly interrogates himself about such prejudices. His rich, smooth voice is the sweet coating on his blend of profundity and amusement.

Doug Stanhope is also all about freedom, but in his case it is the freedom to do only what he approves of, otherwise you will get bellowed at endlessly, stridently and tediously. Stanhope's ostensible values are liberal, but they are more than fully negated by his style. He, too, does 20-odd minutes about "the Jews", but every time he protests his innocence he stokes the fires still further (an awkward metaphor that Stanhope would relish and over-develop).

In a moment of breathtaking cheek, he imagines Bill Hicks living on and selling out to commercialism; Stanhope makes noises like Hicks, but is entirely devoid of the challenging element to his material. He seems to imagine that people find him unfunny because he is offensive, and that those who are offended by him are by definition vermin. In fact it is perfectly possible to be both offensive and hilarious, it's just that Stanhope doesn't manage it. He might also like to consider the possibility that if that many people are offended (and the remainder simply howl like drunken rednecks), then it might not be that he is the one who is right and the rest of the world wrong. Just a thought.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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