Brendon Burns: Burnsy vs Brendon
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
For years the Aussie comedian has been hiding behind his brash stage persona as the arrogant, opinionated, sexy, raucous, uncompromising and hilarious; Burnsy.
Like many comics, Brendon Burns has two sides to his personality: an exaggerated onstage persona, and the 'normal' self.
When the spotlight comes on, he plays up the 'Burnsy' ego a savage explosion of aggression who respects no taboos, sensibilities, or often even common sense. The feral persona isn't always left in the dressing room, either, firing Burns with the uninhibited spirit to party harder than most.
Or at least, that was the case. After 14 reasonably successful years, Burns want to give voice to the other aspect of his life, the sensible dad who strives to be a better, more intelligent man and do the best for his family, the side he calls 'Brendon'.
So in this show we get both yin and yang, half an hour of each side of the coin conveniently not alienating fans of the loud-mouthed powerhouse, but presumably designed to attract a few more who prefer their comedy more thoughtful. Something for everyone in this comedy tonight.
The only slight problem is that personalities are rarely as clear-cut as that; we all demonstrate a spectrum of behaviour, not just the two extremes. Though Burnsy was boorish, pig-headed and ignorant, some semi-serious issues did permeate the bilious anger unhindered by being in full possession of the facts. But the new Brendon would dismiss any such attempts as spurious and trite socio-political comment.
So to make the distinction most pronounced, the Burnsy who first takes to the stage exaggerates all the worst aspects of the persona: shouty, misogynistic and moronic, cheerfully spitting out swear words by the paragraph for no other reason than to shock. The playfulness has gone, as has the semi-serious topical stuff.
At first this is slightly stilted, odd for a persona Burns has adopted for so long, but he soon loosens up as he hits his stride, mixing the provocative and the idiotic, the obscene and the insane. It's wild, shocking and passionate sometimes sensible, often not. His solution to the Middle East crisis? Get everyone to move. That probably counts as a not.
Then, as he nails a particularly fine joke by yelling just inches from the face of some poor front-row unfortunate, it's freeze-frame. A slightly clunky bridge between the two halves then sees Brendon discussing his act with his toddler son, Luke, who encourages him to be less rude. Well, he can't offer worse advice than many agents
So we're introduced to the 'real' Brendon a transformation achieved by the Clark Kent school of disguise: glasses. He's got the good bits of Burnsy, especially the cheekiness, the quick wit and the social comments, but without the indignant fury only the ignorant can truly muster. This character;s not afraid to have some more homespun observational comments in the mix, too. Why shouldn't he talk about his pet lizard Dave, if it's funny?
In keeping with the more genuine voice, Brendon becomes more introspective, especially when it comes to his failed relationship with the woman of his dreams; dumped for a DJ in South Africa. Was it the excesses of the Burnsy side of his character that drove her away?
Burnsy, of course, would sees this as self-pitying bellyaching and doesn't mince his words in telling him so in voiceover, sparking an animated debate with his two selves over the nature of his personality, and indeed comedy itself. Ultimately, the old Burnsy is laid to rest in what would have been a poignant moment had Burns not corpsed, turning it instead into hilarious farce.
It's an ambitious show, but Burns near enough pulls it off without falling into the twin traps of pretentiousness or self-indulgence the conceit could offer. And, of course, it helps that both personas are damn funny in their different ways - though whether Brendon would be quite so effective as Burnsy as silencing the Friday night hen-party end of the comedy market has yet to be seen.
For comedy-literate Edinburgh, though, this is an interesting and often hilarous look at the nature of the art. With swearing.