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Man 1, Bank 0

Man 1, Bank 0

Show type: Montreal 2006

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Original Review:

Like millions of people every day, hard-up Patrick Combs was sent some junk mail for a dubious marketing idea – including a phoney cheque for $95,093.35 to demonstrate just how much he could make by signing up.

But rather than bin it, he decided – for no reason other than a joke – to see if his bank would accept it. So imagine the shock when the amount was credited to his balance – and stayed there. The get-rich scheme had, it appeared, got him rich, however inadvertently.

What a fantastic stroke of surprising good fortune, in which the little guy pulls one over on both the bank and the old-school spammer. But it’s not, you would be forgiven for thinking, a story of such complexity to sustain a near two-hour show.

However, things were not quite as simple as that, and the bank error in his favour sparked a long campaign of legal, and moral, to-ing and fro-ing, as the legitimacy of his windfall becomes hotly disputed. One day, Combs seems firmly in the right, the next his hopes are dashed as some previously overlooked issue raises new doubts. So it becomes a gripping rollercoaster ride of ‘will he or won’t he’ get to keep the cash.

‘I am not an actor, nor a comedian, just a guy who lived it,’ San Franciscan Combs explains at the start – immediately telling a lame old joke at the expense of bankers, as if to prove his point.

But if he wasn’t a performer when this happened to him a decade ago, he has certainly become one now, in the skilful telling of his fascinating tale. As well as the natural drama of the twists and turns over ‘his’ $95,000, Combs effectively employs all manner of theatrical episodes to keep the tension in his David vs Goliath struggle. You are always rooting for him, hoping he’ll deliver a blow against the bullyboy bankers.

You learn far more than you’d ever wish to about the minutiae of US banking legislation, but in Combs’ good company it never remotely seems like a lecture, even if the running time could do with a trim. He is such a naturally likeable guy, you can see why he became, at least for a moment, a minor media celebrity in the States when his story broke.

The Parthenon of docu-comedy shows is growing all the time, feeding festivals around the world with out-of-the-ordinary tales from real life. Combs’s story, handled with his winning lightness of touch, is an entertaining new addition to that number.

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