Markus Birdman: One Step Beyond
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2004
One Step Beyond is a show about the first album you ever bought, about growing up. It's about following your dreams, about realising your dreams have been given some pretty duff directions, and now where the hell are you? It's about love, it's about family. It's about losing your innocence, it's about finding it again - and seeing it doesn't match your outfit.
"I'm largely entertaining myself here," muses Markus Birdman at one stage of his show, referring to his quiet, 14-strong audience. Yet, the unashamedly middle-class comic may have been being hard on himself, as his show is far from boring. Rather, it is the type of effective, professional set that can be relied upon in comedy clubs up and down the country at any given weekend.
But a sixth-full converted cinema is a different proposition, so Birdman has to work extremely hard right from the beginning. This is especially tough as Birdman is clearly a comic who thrives upon his crowd; usually, as he repeatedly claims, riding waves of drunken laughter at Jongleurs. He instinctively looks towards the audience and grins after every punchline, waiting for the desired response and promptly looking flustered when it doesn't reach the normal decibel level.
Still, he does make an extremely valiant effort at adapting to such foreign conditions, abandoning his routine for the first 15 minutes in order to gain momentum by talking to the audience. At this, Birdman is very quick-witted, taking the banter further than the regular questions and providing an uncannily accurate impression of a girl in the front row. This tactic paid off, as his well-meaning and occasionally apologetic demeanour is winningly endearing.
His material is an eclectic mixture of observational and the surreal, sometimes steering dangerously close to the most common of subjects (Gareth Gates' stutter, Big Brother) before making a drastic U-turn with some wonderfully inventive lines or offbeat moments.
The use of a record player, either as the backing for a comedy song or for mood music to a routine, is especially memorable and proficient at distinguishing Birdman from the pool of hundreds and hundreds of other stand-ups. His bilingual version of The Bare Necessities to a delightfully crackling vinyl, especially, is one of the show's highlights.
There is little or no theme to the show, save for the opening music and a couple of garbled explanations of the title in a contrived effort to add a personal element. These types of failures do suggest that Birdman's routine is misplaced at the festival, and he also completely misjudges his audience.
Rather than using certain jokes to flat reactions and claiming they storm it on "a pissed-up Saturday night", he should be writing new ones for this alternative situation.