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Alfie Brown: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Running into one industry bigwig in a late-night bar at last year’s Fringe, Alfie Brown was told: ‘Advice: Be funny, not clever. Nobody cares how clever you are.’

This is caustic, intense and intelligent hour-long riposte to those unsolicited words of wisdom which doesn’t entirely come off – inevitably enough, because he too often puts the smarts before the laughs. But his uncompromising stance is fascinating to watch and if he masters the route down which he is intent of travelling, he could become one of the most important, incisive comedians of his generation.

Soul For Sale is essentially about the corporate packaging of culture – which, given how many comics slag off vacuous TV shows and manufactured pop, might not sound entirely original. But Brown has a rare authenticity, projecting the strong impression he would never rejig these thoughts into gags that would suit shiny-floor Saturday-night entertainment shows, just for the chance to nuzzle at the teat of fame.

It’s no surprise, then, that he has little time for Made In Chelsea or Justin Bieber, or vacuous local radio DJs. In one memorable routine, he berates one for praising a Rihanna song for not containing any bad language – even though, as Brown passionately contests, it certainly contains plenty of bad influences.

That’s one of the many contradictions of modern life that this 25-year-old grapples with. And ‘grapple’ is the right word, as he doesn’t always score a victory over his difficult arguments, even thought they are always fascinating.

His hard delivery, too, ensures a certain tension pervades the entire set, and the audience can never entirely relax. And when he sprints into the moral minefield of paedophilia with a recklessness/bravery that would do Chris Morris proud, it proves too much for a couple of locals who were already finding Brown’s stand-up dissertation a little hard to follow – and left, very vocally, disturbing the already delicate balance of the piece.

Yet just as tellingly, another punter who bristled as the controversial topic being raised, did eventually see what Brown was getting at beyond the understandable kneejerk reaction.

The cornerstone, though is the in-depth response to that promoter’s unsolicited advice. It’s almost inescapable that he channels Stewart Lee for some of this sarcasm-laced routine, intrinsically parodying his own repetitive catchphrases or commenting; ‘That’s not a good bit, is it?’ But he makes his point.

On laugh count alone, this would only be a three-star show; and is certainly not recommended for those who don’t want to hear a comedian delve into genuinely uncomfortable territory. But the same could be said of Lenny Bruce ­– a man of whom Brown’s promoter nemesis may well not have heard – and how much would you give now to have experience him in his early days?

Brown’s not in the territory of the greats yet, as the show is just too uptight, but he’s going the right way about it.

Review date: 11 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Underbelly Cowgate

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