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Brendon Burns: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Commentators are always looking for the big themes of an Edinburgh Fringe. Are comics talking about the Olympics, or the recession, or celebrity culture? But that’s to ignore the nature of comedians. The most recurring subject of this year’s festival seems to be googling yourself.

While on this very site, Brendon Burns found a comment that got his goat. ‘Burns does a  convincing pose of a rock n roll comedian,’ said one punter, ‘but it is the mere carapace to not very nutritious filling.’

It’s not usually etiquette to engage with any online critics, but this comment clearly stung.  Burns takes issue with the very fact he’s trying to be a rock-and-roll comic. Once, maybe. But now he’s over 40, married, with a teenage son and living in the countryside, where he owns a cosy pair of slippers. Hell, he’s even got a routine on Masterchef, and why it’s such a great show. Home Stretch Baby is a reference to the fact he’s now where he wants to be in life, and the rest should be easy.

This, of course, is all delivered at ear-splitting volume and searing intensity, with a barrage of C-bombs, introduced with a pounding rock track. And there’s still a raging anger there: just mention his stepmum and see what spectacular pyrotechnics of profanities erupt from his embittered brain, it’s beautiful in its viciousness. So, yes, with the ambiguity he likes to play with, there are still some rock-star sensibilities at play just as he is denying them.

Burns identifies with aging rockers like AC/DC, living a life of comfort becoming of their years, but still doing the business night after night. Their audiences, once terrifying, are now family men like Burns himself, seeking a sanitised reminder of the wild excess of their youth.

The main example of his increasing maturity, though, is the more varied tone of his show. Yes, there’s fury when he needs it, or a particularly graphic discussion of the insidious nature of online porn. Yet even this is more than just gratuitous filth, even if that’s what gets the laughs, as there’s a thought process behind it.

An important strand concerns his relationship with his dad, a bona fide engineering genius who made a fortune from his ideas, but an altogether different manner of man from his son. Burns Snr died earlier this year, but while the comic addresses this with wit and emotional honesty, this is not to be glibly dismissed as ‘dead dad’ show.

Sprawling 25 minutes over the allocated hour – but never feeling like its outstaying its welcome – this lively show takes in his first, appalling, gig in 1990 to the challenges of performing to the aloof Dutch; the parochial arrogance of New York and even stromatolites (how hack…) The diverse topics all flow seamlessly together, and although Burns’ delivery can still be extreme, that’s far from always being the case. There’s a thoughtfulness behind what he’s saying, and a sometimes harsh poetry in the way that he says it. Plus just enough theatricality to give the stand-up a lift, without overwhelming it.

This is Burns’s best show since he won the big award five years ago – that’s obvious despite an audience that was slow to warm to him tonight. It he’s going to maintain this quality on his home stretch, the rest of us are in for a great ride.

Review date: 27 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Dome

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