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Jarlath Regan: Shock And Ahh!

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Jason Stone

Jarlath Regan has had a tough year.  His wife was in hospital for the last 11 weeks of her first pregnancy and it was unclear whether she and their unborn son would survive.  It was an experience that prompted Regan to rethink his priorities – and that's hardly surprising.

His decision to form a Fringe show around this experience is surprising though. Not because comedy can't deal with serious issues... it's often at its best when it does just that.  The problem lies with Regan's inability to describe this ordeal in an engaging fashion. It's hideously ungenerous to say it, but why should a Fringe audience who've paid money for comedic entertainment be prepared to listen instead to an awful account of a harrowing near tragedy?

It's clear that Regan wants to suggest his tale provides lessons for all of us.  But he's either not skilled enough to pull it off or he's too traumatised by his experience to recognise that his message is a mixture of platitudinous self-pity and screamingly obvious musings about the fragility of life.  It doesn't help that he's still so affected by what happened that he becomes visibly emotional at the close of the show, as it only appears to provide evidence that he was unwise to use his family's medical drama as the basis of comedy.

Before this sentimental conclusion Regan describes how, against his better instincts, he accepted a position as comedian in a children’s programme in Ireland.  Many of his complaints about this experience sound like they should have been aimed in the direction of a friend.  Not just any friend... but a remarkably tolerant one prepared to listen to the self-indulgent bleating of a man who imagined that he'd be given a free rein to do what he wanted.  On being told that the producers kept ignoring all of Regan's ideas, perhaps that friend would be able to gently suggest maybe those ideas weren't as great as he thought they were.

Before he became bogged down in the quagmire of his own major and minor tragedies, Regan offered some amusing ruminations on the nature of nationalism and, in particular, the extraordinary way his compatriots got behind X Factor pop duo Jedward's attempt to win the Eurovision Song Contest.  His description of his father-in-law's fervour offered a funny insight into the way in which patriotism can be stoked in the most unlikely fashion.

Regan draws a little laughter from his suggestion that ITV's Saturday night show Take Me Out is evidence of life's cruelty in the 21st Century but his description of it lacks any kind of penetrative analysis and he resorts to a reduction of Take Me Out's lack coarseness, which is as crass as anything you might expect to see on the programme itself.  It had been lazily written and never rose above the level of comedy you might hear at the water cooler from the a colourful character in your company's accounts department.

The most frustrating aspect of this show is that Jarlath Regan is clearly capable of more.  A few years ago, he seemed to be a comedian on the up and up and his decision to bring a personal dimension to his set could have yielded a quite remarkable outcome.  Instead his comedy is mired in indulgent self-reflection and a stultifying sentimentality.

Review date: 14 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Jason Stone

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