Alex Kealy: Rationale

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Alex Kealy’s therapist probably put it best when he told his client: you’re not emotional.

For although he serves up a healthy portion of smart and funny jokes, this son of a retired diplomat, as Establishment as they come, cannot shake the posh froideur he was brought up with, making it difficult to warm to him between the punchlines.

There’s an irony that he criticises the Remain campaign for ‘shouting data at people’ compared to Leavers’ appeal to the heart, unconcerned with facts. For he is in the same situation himself.

That his material is delivered in unconfident haste and with little tonal variation doesn’t help, nor the fact that he’s very guarded against revealing too much about himself, beyond a few broad assertions such as the fact he’s naive about drugs or that he flatshares with a sibling. Instead, he tends to focus on more significant issues such as politics and religion that he can address in the abstract. 

In his element, Kealy is a smart, funny writer, whose detachment is an asset, giving him the cold analytical skills to get to the nub of an issue and nail it with a gag. His analogy game is strong, too, even if he leans on that technique a little too much.

His opinion of whether the Isis bride ought to be brought back to Britain ought to make one of those endless ‘jokes of the Fringe’ lists, though the subject matter suggests it won’t. And he has an assessment of what Boris Johnson wants from being Prime Minister that gets to the heart of the man.

But the limitations of a stream of one-liners are exposed over an hour, especially when the quality sinks. Veteran Fringe-goers might recognise the formula: for the first 20 minutes or so, he’s a powerhouse, knocking out those perfectly expressed gags in what would be a robust club set. 

For the second 20 minutes, he coasts. There’s a lot of goodwill and enough decent punchlines and built-up momentum to hold the attention even if the strike rate sags and arms-length attitude leaves the weaker lines exposed with no cover of gregarious bonhomie. And in the last 20 minutes, the wheels come off as half-formed ideas seek the focus of a gag. 

In this show, still in preview, he acknowledges the work to be done in turning these latter thoughts into jokes, but it seems like an Everest to climb at such a late stage. That these sections mainly talk about big, sometimes dark issues, such as the unknowable bleakness of death and the artistic legacy of terrible humans make the struggle to land punchlines obvious. However, his response to the possibly more frivolous subject of The Guardian’s review of Crazy Rich Asians is strong.

In the final reckoning, Kealy needs more consistency and more personality, but Rationale cements his reputation as a most useful writer of political gags. 

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Published: 5 Aug 2019


Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Alex Kealy: The Art of the Keal

Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Alex Kealy: A Kealy's Heel

Edinburgh Fringe 2019

Alex Kealy: Rationale


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