Brendon Burns: Sober Not Clean
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
Part three of the Burnsy Vs Brendon trilogy: In part one he dissected his onstage and offstage personas. In part two he handed out enough mushrooms to get 1,000 people high with him at Glastonbury. What happened to Brendon next? He went mad and wound up in rehab! The conclusion to the critical smash hit.
Some people will do anything to get material for their Edinburgh show. Brendon Burns went mad. Proper, smearing-your-own-shit, mad.
Anyone who's been following the previous instalments of the soap-opera trilogy that his life has become won't be surprised to learn that drink and drug addictions played their part in this downfall. The outrageous exploits he so loved to tell on stage for which read 'tendency to act like a grade-A arsehole but joke about it afterwards' also turned out to be symptoms.
So, sinking to his lowest ebb, he checked into rehab at the Priory, cleaned himself up, and now he's back to tell us about his belief in God and how it helped him overcome this problems. Alleluyah.
You may think that précis is a joke: Burns is surely a foul-mouthed, offensive Aussie who won't leave any taboo untrashed for the sake of a joke. Surely our hard-hitting gobby lout isn't going to use such a clichéd, tabloid-magazine tale of triumph over adversity, with God's help, as the basis of a show.
Well, he is. But thankfully, his tale is not couched in such saccharinely uplifting banalities. Nor is it the excuse for some gloomily depressing, introspective wallowing in his suffering in the name of artistic weight. Instead it's a funny, wide-ranging show, leading the audience into all sorts of unexpected territory, but accompanied by a reassuringly skilful guide. As an audience, we're only sightseeing in his tale of misery, so we see the landmarks, he tells us a funny, interesting and illuminating story, then the chuckle bus moves on to the next off-the-beaten path destination for the same again.
The Priory, we learn, is no glorified weekend spa to pamper the over-burdened celebrity, but a full-on mental institution. Ironically, a place bleak enough to drive anyone mad. But with the help of his fellow patients, some painful self-analysis and something called equine therapy, Burns pulled through and he hasn't touched a drop, or anything stronger, for months. And this time, the sobriety will surely stick.
Details of what exactly happened in the Priory is glossed over, save for that equine therapy in which Burns was kicked by a horse, an incident that seems to be given far too much stage time in a show in which so much else happens (and which consequently overruns by 20 minutes).
Instead, we flashback to incidents that might have provided telltale signs of his festering disease: picking fights, plunging depths of sexual depravation, or simply getting drunk or high. Luckily these symptoms of mental illness are prime fodder for raucous stand-up anecdotes. You wonder how his therapist ever kept a straight face.
In the more recent past, his drug-induced experiences made him contemplate the afterlife well, you would when the Devil himself starts chatting personally to you so leading to some interesting philosophical material about its nature. You may very well not agree with this bit, but Burns still makes a decent argument.
The fear, or course, is that his new, cleaned-up life won't lead to the glorious tales of excess we've all enjoyed so vicariously over the years. That may still be true though he's always got that mental library of experiences to flick through. But the good news is that Burns' comic brain is back firing on all cylinders, and now he can rely on his fierce and fearless intellect to get his material, rather than having to sleep with two ugly fat women at the same time.
Analytically, Sober Not Clean is not flawless the usual criterion for five stars. The narrative sometimes gets forgotten amid the digressions, the ethics are still screwed up as he still seems naughtily proud of the bad behaviour caused by his illness, and a few too many details are skimped on, presumably because there's not much funny in them. And don't get me started on the cringe-making professional arrogance contained his uplifting final message (hopefully meant tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn't quite come across that way)
But you have to hail a comic who exposes his life so willingly, who takes his audience on such an emotional ride without resorting to course manipulation, who has the courage to flirt with conventions of bad taste, who has the power of delivery to overwhelm resistance, revulsion and downright hostility, and, most of all, who makes it all damn funny.
Brendon, have that fifth star you've never before received from Chortle. God knows, you've been through enough to earn it.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Date of review: Aug 2006
Steve - 24/03/2007
Saw Brendon last week in the Soho Theatre, absolutely awesome. Go see him!!
Soph - 26/08/2006
Soph - 26/08/2006
Never seen him before, but it was just brilliant. He had massive energy, had everyone in fits. Really really enjoyable, haven't laughed so much for ages. Plus, I wish I had seen the other two parts of the trilogy. Brendon, Burnsy whoever, you are a legend.
Tim - 15/08/2006
Summed up well by previsous comments. His ability to draw you into his experiences and take you on a journey are second to none. I sometimes wonder how much is factually true, but he delivers with such conviction, even the audience trigger digressions, that you find it impossible to question anything. I've been looking forward to this for a year and it was worth every day I waited.
C - 15/08/2006
Awesome, delicious, painful, hilarious - this really is the whole kit and caboodle. I really hope that for his own sake, and for the sake of his incredibly impressive mind, Brendon stays on that wagon. That way I am convinced he'll provide nothing but superb, sharp comedy.
SianyB - 08/08/2006
The most beautifully written hour of stand up I've ever seen. By the end I was laughing but with such a big lump in my throat I thought I'd choke. The man is a legend.
Dave Bishop - 05/08/2006
Yes totally agree with Mark, saw his preview in Sheffield and the Burns is back with a vengence. Funniest hour of comedy I've seen all year.
Mark - 04/08/2006
Well Brendon is back for another year and this time to complete his trilogy (don't worry if you've not seen the previous two as he gives a summary to get you up to speed). Last year I posted a review filled with sadness as I thought I had witnessed the end of my favourite comic. However, I am overjoyed to report that this year he has cleaned up and is better than ever. I found this show not only funny, but also very moving. Brendon has always shared a little of himself in his show, but now it feels very real and like everyone is part of something meaningful and important. I would love to think that finally Brendon can get the recognition from the Perrier judges that he deserves, but alas I fear that his upfront, not-for-telly act will exclude him from the award. I already have tickets for many more shows in the festival, but I am confident that this first show will be my favourite. Go see this show and you will be apart of a rare fringe talent. He is not simply a joke teller but a true craftsman back at the top of the game. Brilliant!