O'Show 2004

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s the nature of this festival that everything’s packaged into easy-to-market strands – some more obvious than others. Antipodeans, gay comics, Brits and women all get their own show and the ‘Paddies’, as the brochure so sensitively calls the Irish contingent, all come together under one shamrock logo. Not that their Irishness is a defining part of any of the chosen comics’ acts, but it’s a convenient label.

The night’s hosted by Ed Byrne, now returning to form after an off-the-boil tour a year or so back. And he’s even got some material specially for his Canuk hosts – cutting Toronto’s CN Tower down to size as well as disparaging Calgary’s weak attempts at a similar tourist skyscraper.

His set is based firmly in the everyday. It’s about smoking and dentists and mobile phones and affectionate nicknames. True, the things he says might have crossed many a mind before his, but his skill is to expresses it with a wit and eloquence few others can master. That he comes across as a friendly, honest-to-goodness sound bloke is no hindrance, either.

Neil Delamare has a nice air to him, too. His everyday tales from the one-cop town in which he grew up may not be earth-shattering, but they are told with a rare warmth and good humour that easily transmits to the audience.

With material like this there’s the ever-present risk of falling into the cosily twee, but he mostly sidesteps that danger, even if dusting down the hoary old lines about turning into his dad probably isn’t the best idea.

His enviable talents as a storyteller come to the fore in a spun-out yarn about nothing more than schoolboys playing with an imaginary football, a modest tale which nonetheless seduces the audience with its quiet charm.

But he lets his mask of niceness slip, too, especially with the cruellest material about rescue workers who trawl for bodies in the wreckage of collapsed buildings. Hardly in keeping with his otherwise sweet-natured approach – but you cannot deny it’s funny.

He’s followed by Reuben, a very odd fish indeed. Basically a mime, he uses physical comedy and sound effects to act out a series of sketches.

Tonight, for instance, a hen night is played out, with Reuben playing every part from the surly bouncer to seedy, drunken lounge lizard out on the prow. Babbling away in sort of semi-coherent white noise straight out of a Tex Avery cartoon, he’s hugely effective at conjuring up every member of his extended cast.

It’s a unique act, and brilliantly executed – but it’s clearly not for everyone. Without words to hold an audience’s concentration, some drift away, and the comedy underpinning his vignettes simply isn’t up to the standards of most straightforward stand-ups.

The second half of the show is dedicated to an extended set by Tommy Tiernan. And what a truly stunning experience that is.

Filling the space with an almost violently impassioned tour-de-force performance, he whips up a maelstrom of sharp gags and big ideas, uncompromising in their intelligence, but universally accessible and unfailingly funny.

Oh, it starts quietly enough, with a bit of chit-chat and a gentle riff about his Britney Spears-style microphone, but that’s just the slow, steady assent to the top of the comedy rollercoaster we are about to experience.

With a jolt of adrenaline, we plunge headfirst into his world of searing insights and grand concepts. He has the zealous fervour of the enlightened and the insane – a man convinced he’s seen the blinding light in a single moment of clarity and who’s now made it his evangelical mission to persuade you of the truth. And boy, does he make a compelling case.

"My soul is trying to escape from my body and leap on you," he says – without it sounding the least bit poncey… after all, it’s just the set-up for a cunningly concealed gag about his frequent use of the word ‘fuck’.

The basic tenent of all religion is questioned one minute, the next he makes a huge conceptual leap linking diverse human experiences; the firing of a synapse later we’re analysing Greek and Christian mythology – all the while his infallible bullshit detector is working overtime.

He tramples over your expectations, your beliefs but most importantly your resistance until you’re helpless with laughter, in awe of his oratory.

This is, quite simply, brilliant, brilliant stuff – enormous in ambitious, perfect in its furious execution. If only all stand-up were this good.

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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