John Oliver

Note: This review is from 2002

Review by Steve Bennett

John Oliver has based his debut Edinburgh show on death, a concept he can be no stranger to, given the lukewarm reception his obscure observations receive.

For while he makes some good points, he makes few good jokes, which is something of a drawback.

Time and time again, he has a moderately amusing idea, eliciting quiet smiles all round, then he proceeds to milk those thoughts dry, with variations on the theme the audience never truly brought into in the first place.

Typical of these is the awkwardly set-up idea that charity shops should provide histories for their second-hand clothes usually donated after someone dies, in a similar way to car log books.

It's a fairly pointless concept, which is then tiresomely illustrated with Oliver detailing an imagined history of each item of clothing on a full tailor's dummy (and there were quite a lot of items)

Similarly, what should have been a short, funny routine about historical re-enactment societies was extended well past its limits. Did no one tell him brevity is the soul of wit?

Death's a big enough subject, and Oliver's clearly an intelligent comic who's done his research (he's got the reference books to prove it), so it's a mystery why was show was so lacklustre and thin.

There's also little warmth to the performance, which makes it seem a little like a lecture. Oliver really only acknowledged the audience to make light of the fact they didn't laugh when he expected them to. Which was frequently.

There were a couple of redeeming routines. Oliver even managed to find a decent line humour in the Kursk submarine disaster, and at best he combined imaginative thinking with good gags, though these moments were all-too sparse.

And despite all the cleverness, the biggest laugh of the night went to the slapstick finale - a man dressed as a penguin literally dancing with Death.

Review date: 1 Jan 2002
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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