James Bran: Hack

Brighton Fringe review by Steve Bennett

It’s a brave comedian to flirt with a show title like this, which is simply inviting unflattering headlines. But James Bran is no hack, he’s just chosen an eye-catching label for a show about the increasingly invasive technology fast encroaching on all our lives.

Crucial as this is, his show runs out of power quicker than an iPhone 4. What starts strong, interesting and funny rapidly peters away and the jokes evaporates. What’s frustrating is that Bran was aware of the trap he could fall into, yet plummeted headfirst into it anyway. 

Early doors he implores us to shout, ‘Fuck off, TED Talk’ whenever things get too worthy or lecture-like. A less reticent crowd –  or an artificial intelligence unafraid of hurting the performer’s feelings – would be hollering this almost constantly in the second half as he pontificates about the evils of big data, the ethics of self-driving cars or the social consequences of addictive technologies. 

Occasionally a gag emerges from this – his notion of the settings an autonomous car could have is very amusing – but they are hidden under a mass of facts and fears as he flashes up one cautionary article after another on his PowerPoint.

It’s a shame as the show started off so differently. Leaning on the ‘life hack’ meaning of his title as well as its technological angle, Bran shares some very funny anecdotes about his grandfather, who’s prone to hilarious malapropisms, getting to grips with his first iPhone. The comedian’s forensic analysis of the real time savings of one YouTube ‘how to’ video would be worthy of the equally meticulous Dave Gorman, a fellow aficionado of the slide-show.

In this Bran is quietly spoken, delivering in a subdued style that’s actually very deceptive. He plays skilfully with the audience, especially a woman who laughs distinctively and very generously, to the chagrin of some of the more strait-laced in the front row. Bran bounces off this skilfully, drawing attention to it and binding he room, but never making the punter feel embarrassed for doing exactly as she should.

Yet even our easily delighted friend was silenced in the second half as facts and charts whizz past our eyes, with little in the way of jokes to accompany them. Here we move from the delightful first-hand stories to a commentary drawn from the pages of the heavyweight press chronicling the sinister activities of Facebook, Google and the rest. 

Although not billed as such, this is a preview for the Edinburgh Fringe – as evidenced by Bran losing his place a few times – but he will need to gag up the second half if this script considerably if he’s to make the sort of impact that the first section suggests he’s capable of.

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Published: 30 May 2019

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2019

James Bran: Hack


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