Gareth Berliner: Gutless
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
Gareth Berliner brings laughs, intelligence, pathos and poignanacy to a story of struggle, triumph of the human spirit and the power of laughter
Time was when a diseased mind was all you needed to be a comedian. Now a diseased body helps, too. Well, it gives you something to talk about, doesn’t it?
When he was 13, Gareth Berliner was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease; which meant gradually surgeons hacked away at his intestines until today he needs a catheter in his chest to absorb fluids and nutrition.
This is the sort of show that could end up as a medical student’s case study, but instead Berliner skips lightly through all the science bits, to talk more about his personal experiences with it.
Those experiences involve popping in and out of hospital with alarming regularity. ‘I almost died,’ he says of one procedure. ‘But it was no big deal, it has happened before.’
Such stoicism through what must have been a perpetually terrifying time, and the fact he came through the ordeals might, you think, have given him a renewed lust for life, which he knew was so precious. Well, no. He became hooked on drugs and tried to commit suicide.
This isn’t sounding much like a comedy show at the moment. But it was when at his lowest, he began to start laughing at the ridiculousness of his situation, which he had previously only seen as desperate.
Today he’s an easygoing, open and chatty comic, telling the stories of his eventful life with an absorbing, matter-of-fact frankness.
Although this is essentially your standard ‘triumph over adversity’ tale you might find illustrating some heartstring-tugging telethon, this gregarious 33-year-old never falls into the traps of cloying sympathy-seeking or even uplifting philosophising. He’s just honest about his life – and the incidents he describes are not always pretty – and lets the stories speak for themselves.
There’s even quite a romantic little tale at its heart, about his relationship with the nurse who cared for him, even if, for a touching tale of love it does contain an awful lot of chocolate vomit. But it works so well you feel cheated that it’s ended with a glib one-liner.
Gutless is not really a punchy stand-up show, more a gently amusing yet fascinating memoir of an unusual life, perfectly suited to its more sedate early-afternoon slot.
But this is the best tale of suicide, Crohn’s disease, jejunostomy and chocolate sick you’ll see this Fringe. Probably.