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James Dowdeswell: My Grandad was a Clown and Those are Big Shoes to Fill

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

If Foster’s ran a competition for the best title at the Edinburgh Fringe… well, Stewart Lee would probably complain about it. But James Dowdeswell would probably win it.

This is a cute little show inspired by his discovery that his great-grandfather William was a music-hall clown who worked alongside Charlie Chaplin and the Victorian impresario Fred Karno, a slapstick pioneer. So he dug around a bit to unearth some old photographs and press cuttings, as well as going to a clown school called How To Be Stupid to try to reconnect with his forebear.

And that’s pretty much it. There are no great Who Do You Think You Are? revelations about his family history, or any attempt to make anything more of the story than the curiosity it is, which leaves it feeling a little inconsequential. Even with a couple of ‘greatest hits’ routines from Dowdeswell’s 12 years on the circuit – one about him having the brief role of Count Fuckula in Extras four years ago, which is vaguely relevant, and one the station announcer at Bristol Parkway, which isn’t – the show only clocks in at 45 minutes.

One of William’s reviews called him an ‘able’ comedian, which presents something of an open goal for any modern-day critic wanting to describe Dowdeswell, though that would be to deny the affable charm that just about carries the often flimsy content here.

A couple of 100-year-old jokes are dusted down to show that some of the wit still works today, in contrast to some of the new jokes that already feel a bit creaky, such as imagining what sort of events might be included in a clown Olympics. As a finale, Dowdeswell tries to recreate what his ancestor’s act might have been, albeit very knowingly; but he hardly throws himself into the role, seemingly uncomfortable being anything other than himself.

While ‘himself’ is a likeable enough prospect for any Fringe-goer, and the show is indeed warm and affable, there’s a distinct feeling of missing substance. Big shoes to fill indeed.

Review date: 16 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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