Finalist in the both the Laughing Horse and Hackney Empire new act competitions in 2008
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Pat Burtscher: Fringe 2012
It’s called the observer effect: that you cannot study something without affecting it. And it was certainly in play during Pat Burtscher’s show on Friday.
All started well, but after a while he became nervous and distracted, especially by a group of flyerers in the front row whose – admittedly rude – habit of whispering to each other really put him off his stride. He awkwardly raised it with them, but the issue never really got resolved.
This lack of focus turned to full-paranoia when Burtscher berated a woman for glancing at her watch. She didn’t even have a watch.
Then he came clean: It was the presence of a certain Chortle reviewer that was putting him off. He likened the pressure to trying to have fun with your friends while your parents are in the room – it just can’t be done as you’re never truly relaxed.
I understand. Being examined is a pressure no one really likes, especially in the ‘safe place’ a comedy gig should be, with the performer free to act without chains. On the other hand comics are always judged by the audience – and shouldn’t be too surprised to see a critic in the room an international arts festival teeming with us. Especially when you are paying one of the Fringe’s biggest PR firms to get journalists to write about you.
We had a bit of a chat about whether I should stay, and Burtscher uncertainly decided it was probably OK – though as he kept asking how his star-rating was going, it’s clear he was never entirely comfortable with that call. Ironically, his blurb describes this doubt-filled Canadian as an ‘supremely confident’ performer.
The thing is, the show was going perfectly well until he decided to kick over the applecart of goodwill shared between himself and the audience, with his inconclusive show of irritation with that front row, and he never recovered it.
It’s a shame as he started so strong: With the stupidly grandiose but low-budget opening followed by his signature routine that takes the familiar gripes about babies crying on planes to inventively surreal new levels.
Cleverly offbeat ideas kept surfacing, many based on his underlying philosophy that the world should be more karmic: That you should get the wealth, the face and even the hangover you deserve based on your behaviour. Other material resonated less – the idea that vaginas are men-eating sea monsters suggests Burtscher’s got issues – but there was always some interesting twist of imagination at their core.
But none of the routines were showcased at their best. Burtscher would rattle off a bit and then return to the uncomfortable atmosphere, only exacerbating it, never alleviating it. I suspect, though I may be wrong, that there will always be something a bit sloppy about his performance, since slick professionalism doesn’t seem to be in his nature.
But on the strength of tonight, that’s damaging the experience rather than enhancing it. This audience certainly left pondering what the show might be at 100 per cent, knowing what they had just witnessed was a bit of a slow-motion car crash – but with some excellent bits of stand-up scattered through it.
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