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Chris Turner: Pretty Fly

Review by Jay Richardson

Chris Turner's many, many gags in this remarkable debut hour elicit a mixture of responses. Laughter, certainly. He's an exceptionally smart, forensic explorer of the possibilities of English, who's densely packed his autobiographical account of a 24-year-old, privately-educated archaeology graduate falling in love with a girl, drinking and hip-hop with so many puns and impressive, indulgent wordplay that at times you wonders if he's psychologically incapable of resisting toppers.

There are plenty of groans too, albeit often in grudging admiration for his inventiveness. Roman numerals are a recurring inspiration, as is the Periodic Table and the formality of French verb construction. Often though, you're acknowledging his ingenuity just so the set can move on.

Because every now and then, there's palpable relief that he's seemingly wrung a topic dry, at least until he confounds this once more with a callback or tagline that delights or exhausts again. Meanwhile, underscoring everything is tacit appreciation of him weaving a simple but effective introduction to himself through the relentless punnery.

As with his hip-hop heroes, Turner is flash, but splashing his wit rather than his cash. His hard-knock trajectory is one of unfashionable privilege, nerdiness and an interesting degree with zero employment prospects, rather than busting out of the ghetto.

For the most part, this manifests itself as an appealing and rare blend of swagger and self-deprecation. But it doesn't approach the inclusive, undemanding joy fostered by a Milton Jones or a Tim Vine, the show-offiness just a little too apparent.

In an commendable but probably misguided moment, he actually mentions a previous review that cited his superb subversion of a familiar platitude as 'more clever than funny', an unfortunately accurate assessment.

Most of his lines would dazzle on the printed page where the reader has the leisure to approach the laugh in their own good time. Delivered live however, his flow and contrivances are sometimes taxing, the consistent mental leaps required to bridge the gap between setup and punchline fatiguing with accumulation.

Pockets of the room arrive on the laugh at different times but there's rarely the rolling waves of amusement that nurtures a sense of community. I noted at least one astute bon mot that he delivered flatly, almost to disguise its nature as a joke and spare the listener the effort, an awareness perhaps that he's over-egging the pudding. Appreciation for a tremendous observation on Jay Z's largesse was tempered by the inevitable, less impressive pun that followed.

Around two-thirds in, he eases back to offer a detailed account of an incident that occurred with his girlfriend in Paris. A more relaxed episode, it offers a few more insights into his personality and shows that potentially, Turner might marry the disciplines of storytelling and one-liners to greater reward.

Taken in isolation, there are some truly masterful gags in his repertoire, crafted with intellectual panache and a logophile's enthusiasm. Competitions that reward the best jokes of the Fringe would do well to study this hour closely.

Moreover, he also closes stylishly in an improvised sequence triumphantly free of the demands made before, his word-flair drawing in rather than dazing the listener.

Review date: 31 Jul 2014
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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