America Stands Up! 2010

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Jay Richardson

As San Franciscan compere Scott Capurro acknowledged, America Stands Up! is something of a misnomer for this showcase of otherwise exclusively New York-based acts, with all of the metropolis’ famed confrontational attitude on display.

An annual highlight of the Glasgow Comedy Festival brochure, the acts taking part tend to be virtually unknown in the UK, and only get a couple of small, warm-up gigs around the city to re-tune their material and hone their local observations. Some sink without trace, while others, like Danny Lobell, have swum successfully enough to return with a solo show this year.

In previous years, I’ve felt Capurro a poor choice of host, very funny but unsettling the crowd with his sexually and racially provocative material, the worst kind of mood-setter for foreign comics in an unfamiliar situation. I might have done him a disservice though. He went through the fellatio-mimed motions a bit this evening, but the culture clash of New York’s ethnic diversity with Glasgow’s pale luminescence, and that melting pot of fiercely asserted identities and high-status posturing that seems so extrovert to UK reticence, undoubtedly benefitted from him foregrounding it right away.

Not that there weren’t casualties. Rachel Feinstein’s wry ruminations on the assurance of Puerto Rican women undoubtedly have greater impact back home. But one sympathises with her faltering opening – there was something in her tone when she asked the standard question of whether anyone liked a drink provoked a strangely muted response for a Scottish crowd.

Feinstein’s a confident performer but her dating material is wholly unremarkable, the broadest canvases of metrosexual men and her whoreish girlfriends. She only begins to engage when she fleshes out these caricatures with her gift for distinctive voices, bewildering a letching homeboy by channelling her Jewish grandmother.

Nevertheless, likening the moans of a disinterested porn actress to the sounds she makes shifting furniture is one of the rare moments when she unites the room in laughter.

Rather more successful is Alaskan-born Hailey Boyle, quick to disassociate herself from Sarah Palin but even quicker to register her seething hatred for the skinny girls in the front rows. Her sizeable frame is a starting point for any number of superb routines that effectively alternate between deadpan self-deprecation and aggressive sexuality, leaving you in no doubt that she’ll play the ugly duckling, small town rube only as far as it amuses her, her outsider’s perspective prompting some hilariously dark, counter-intuitive reactions to society’s norms – potential rapists are warned about becoming her unsuspecting victims.

There’s a palpable frisson in the room when she recalls being dumped by a black Republican and starts criticising Asian girls. But we’re in safe hands, and the solid punchlines, stereotyping as they are, are free of malice and only lightly flirt with prejudice.

Apropos of nothing, she claims that black men smell of coconut, a fact the next act, Chicago-born Hannibal Buress, pictured unequivocally slaps down. Because he smells of cinnamon. Standout of the evening, he slowly feels his way in with some low-energy musings on his local Mexican restaurant becoming a church and the lengthy experimentation process required to create a Flaming Dr Pepper cocktail.

Soon though, he’s bristling with an unwarranted agitation and as he launches into a ungracious but logical demolition of his girlfriend’s irritation with his timekeeping, his hackles rise. So by the time he’s bawling out a character in the Grand Theft Auto computer game for criticising his dress sense or his baby nephew for some minor infraction, he’s approaching an enjoyable head of steam. Without a cellphone to distract him in the UK, he’s delighted to find he has more time for slapping people.

Throughout, he retains a sense of his own ridiculousness, confusing a sandwich board promotion with an Amnesty International campaign and recalling the hubris of patronising his four-year-old niece. Mocking handlebar moustaches, he catches himself and chuckles ‘I’m tackling the real issues here, so dangerous!’

He closes brilliantly, recalling an intense confrontation he experienced when bulk-buying apple juice, the seeming insignificance of the situation and his own agenda blinding him to the true insidious cause.

If Buress’s feelings are seldom far from the surface, Brian Scott McFadden gives absolutely nothing of himself away, a polished act who might have been created in a stand-up laboratory, right down to his ‘Oh, yeah!’ catchphrase. A variation on the hoary ‘Am I right folks?’, over the duration of his set, it shifts from being a quirk, to an irritation, to oddly endearing, so eager is he to bolt it onto every fifth gag.

Like some sort of meta-comedian, he opens with skilled impressions of various types of laughter, before delivering the obligatory wisecrack at the expense of Glasgow’s tiny underground system. This prompts him to envisage the Tannoy announcer on his own subway system, where the laughs are located in the New Yoik accent struggling to awkwardly form the cadences of formal apology.

Unfortunately, he allows this promising routine to simply dissipate. And a bit on Shawshank relationships, where one half of the couple is maintaining a show of solidarity while secretly plotting their escape, is prematurely dispensed with. The reason for this becomes apparent with his eagerness to unveil his big set-piece, the ‘what women want from a man’ routine to end all such routines.

Assuming the stance of a cat confused by a laser, he reels off a series of contradictory desires to nods and murmurs of assent from both sexes, going far enough to make you think he’s finished with this clever-clever display at just the right moment, before unwisely returning to it at length, to the detriment of all that went before.

While his stagecraft, for the most part, can be appreciated, this is a stand-up who’s content with the most superficial observations. An accomplished pastiche of BBC News reports is fatally compromised when he lets ‘CNN’ slip instead, corrects himself, then repeats the mistake twice more.

Review date: 28 Mar 2010
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Glasgow Stand

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