Mike Gunn: Uncut
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2003
Uncut is a funny and moving story of addiction. Told by Mike Gunn, ex-heroin addict and top comedian.
For an opening gambit, it makes a change from asking how many of his audience are American. "Any junkies in?" the lugubrious Mike Gunn asks the room. "Just me then."
Yes, this is one of those confessional Edinburgh shows, and the skeleton in Gunn's closet is a biggie: nine lost years as a hopeless heroin addict.
In that time, he descended from casual, sociable user to a wan, hepatitis-ridden psychotic who turned to crime to fund his addiction and wound up in a mental hospital. Such stuff comedy is made of.
For such a bold and uncompromisingly honest show, Gunn is strangely uncertain of his approach - starting like a seminar, complete with text-book graphs, before wavering into flippant stand-up, then into the realms of bleak comedy - which is where it most effectively succeeds.
Presumably the idea is to ease the audience gently into the dark material, though when you buy a ticket for a show about a recovering junkie, you're probably pretty sure of the general mood.
But Gunn prefers the stealthy approach. Moodily underlit, he starts explaining the context of addiction, the steps to recovery and how he started his descent. It's not entirely successful, however, with the drama not quite dramatic enough, the comedy not quite funny enough.
When you first start taking his jokes, they do little for you, but before you know it, you start laughing, quietly at first, but then more deeply, until you can't get enough - and you spend the intervening moments just craving that next gag, wondering where the hit will come from. Somehow, you don't know how, he's hooked you.
An obvious metaphor, but it does describe how the show progresses. Once he's over the initial, uncertain 20 minutes, he feels free to explore his theme more. Tales of his drug-fuelled psychosis are naturally funny - after the event - and he starts delving into the areas the audience are palpably less comfortable with.
He won't let the tension build, though. As soon as things start getting edgy, his comedic instinct kicks in, and he'll defuse the situation with a joke. A crappy pub gag if need be - anything to release the pressure.
It's not actually needed, there is humour in the situation - dark, moody humour, admittedly - but we were gripped by the fascinating story and the interjections are little more than unwelcome interruptions. Much better jokes emerge naturally from the situations in any case.
Uncut has a depth and honesty that's missing from so many Fringe shows. It may not be perfect, but it's different, engrossing and - sometimes - funny.