Given last week’s hoo-ha over the newspaper article listing Brendon Burns – unfairly, he believes – as one of the ‘new offenders’ of comedy, it’s hard not watch his new DVD Sober Not Clean with a heightened sensitivity.
As fodder for the prosecution, this self-confessed ‘grossly inappropriate man’ does indeed offer set-ups that begin ‘say what you like about cancer…’ and forcefully-delivered punchlines involving rape and beating a hooker to death.
But context is everything, so in fairness, that last joke is about the game Grand Theft Auto 4; he’s the one being raped in the preceding punchline; and the bad-taste gag about cancer… well, that’s just a bad-taste joke about cancer. No dressing that one up in fancy justification.
Sober Not Clean isn’t for the sensitive, but most of the time when Burns delivers filth, it’s justifiable filth. Deliberately provocative maybe, but within an opinionated narrative that offers some mitigation.
This DVD is ‘best of’ collection of some of the material he was doing before his award-winning show last year. It begins with his coming off drugs and booze, with hard-hitting observations of rehab and drug use combined with a jokey take on Britain’s attitude to alcohol. Say you’re sober in the States, whoops and cheers, in the UK, it’s an uncomprehending ‘what’s wrong with you?’ Burns carefully stokes that misplaced pride to bond the audience.
There’s something of a lull midway through the hour-and-a-bit show, when he moves on to more everyday observations, but then he builds again to a bile-spitting finale about some of the places he’s been.
Berating a snootily chichi Melburnian for dismissing people from other Australian cities as less tolerant, Burns sarcastically points out the inherent irony in that statement.
Then in the height of hypocrisy only a comedian (or coke-head who insists on buying Fair Trade coffee, another of Burns’s bugbears) can muster, he then goes to town on the entire population of Melbourne for their liberal smugness, simply because of where they were born. The passion in his teasing is compelling, even if he might risk losing members of the audience who aren’t aware of the city’s reputation.
That distain is nothing compared to what he feels for the people of Liverpool, however, the city that prides itself on being full of jokers, yet, Burns notes, is singularly bereft of a sense of humour about itself when it’s outsiders who are making the gags. So if you don’t Burns’s seething anger funny, you probably have some Scouse blood in you.
There are no extras other than a commentary, though you do get to hear Burns’s surprisingly good Ed Byrne impression, while attentive viewers might spot the audience duo who were so outraged at So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now in the stalls of this performance, too. This time, they seem to be enjoying the show a lot more.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
- Brendon Burn: Sober Not Clean is available exclusively from HMV, priced £11.99.