Kevin McAleer: Chalk & Cheese
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
To most people, being referred to as "a comedian's comedian"
would seem like a high accolade. But when Kevin McAleer receives
such praise he translates it as "perennial under-achiever".
Perhaps this is what has pushed him into finally making his first
ever visit to the Fringe at the age of fifty.
Chalk & Cheese is a one-hour comedy monologue written
and performed by Irish comedian McAleer. The character lives
in a strange world of paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and
broken down language; everyday events such as eating out, a visit
from the postman, waiting at the lights, can be the starting
point for epic mental voyages into the back of his own head.
In every situation or personal encounter, he inevitably grabs
the wrong end of the stick and holds onto it for dear life.
Stewart Lee, that reliable barometer of all that is wonderful
and interesting in comedy, is a big cheerleader for Irish comic
Kevin McAleer; a cast-iron recommendation sure to draw audiences
to the Stand to find out why.
Many, I feel, will be disappointed. For while there is much
that is admirable in his show, including some truly exquisite
jokes, it's just such hard work to watch it, thanks to interminable
pauses, contrived set-ups and unnecessarily convoluted wordplay.
The rewards are simply not worth the endurance it requires to
Chalk And Cheese details 50-year-old McAleer's paranoia that
he's under constant surveillance from Them. He tells us he wears
a motorcycle helmet to confuse the spy satellites, but fears
that everywhere he turns They are waiting to get him.
It's an intriguing set-up, and his best jokes which
are very fine indeed come when this obsessive mistrust
causes him to fearfully misinterpret such everyday occurrences
as a visit from the postman; experiences which his suspicion
means he sees from an entirely fresh perspective. Elsewhere he
can be subversively silly as he plots to put one over on Them.
But knowing how truly brilliant his writing can be only means
it's more disheartening that the good lines are so heavily outnumbered
by awful, artificial or aged ones: music-hall feeds such as,
'you've got acute psychosis' that go exactly where you think,
tired observations about 'my other car's a Porsche' stickers
and even a joke about Shergar, 23 years after he was news.
I'd say some of his lines were creaking, but I think that
was just the sound of people shifting uncomfortably on the wooden
chairs during the embarrassing silences that greeted them. Occasionally,
this tension is punctured by a nervous laugh, a reflex to combat
the awkwardness; less frequently because one of those great gags
He tells a linear tale, parts of which are very clumsily manufactured
obvious bits of nonsense or barely-credible misunderstandings
serving kick-start another routine; yet conversely there are
bits of the show that are very well put-together, with callbacks,
running themes and some sort of drama in the unfolding story.
But overall, it all just seems a bit sloppy, with material,
narrative and delivery slipping from the sublime to the shabby
in moments, making for a frustrating, heavy-going hour.
Date of review: Aug 2006