Mixed reviews

Paul Parry takes things out of context...

I can’t explain why I remember a review quote on the poster of Mickey Blue Eyes: 'Not ha ha, or ha ha ha, but ha ha ha ha ha'.

I have never understood this review, or seen the whole film, but I assume it was an excerpt of a rather long and drawn out nervous breakdown while writing the review, rather than a reaction to any laugh-out-loud moments that Hugh Grant managed playing his stock Hugh Grant character, barely raising a smirk without the writing of Richard Curtis.

The editing of reviews for promotional material is an interesting phenomenon, and having a cheeky Google of the original review can often reveal some slightly suspicious editing.

Towards the end of the run of Literally, my Edinburgh show last year, I would start by asking why people had come – and asked if they had seen a couple of the very kind reviews. I would then say that people shouldn’t believe a word of them and that people lied on their posters. (It really wasn’t a very good start to the show). I then went on to say people took individual single stars from several reviews and added them all together to give five stars, and that other people took individual letters from reviews to spell our words. ‘G....o....o....d’.

Some reviewers had liked my show, and in the reviews I was able to pick out some nice words fairly easily and stick them onto posters. (though I’m still not sure why the dear girl from Zoo Venues chose to stick 'a pleasant hour of geek-comedy chuckles' onto my posters).

However from nice reviews you could take crap bits – my best review from the Scotsman, could still have given me ‘biting off more than he can chew’, or suggesting that in my one-man show with PowerPoint ‘Paul came in second’.

Also in Edinburgh I was privileged enough to partake in a rather motley group show, taken rather less seriously than it should have been, with one particularly execrable performance having a reviewer in who decided to amuse himself by writing a very colourful review. In these hundred words, he gave us few opportunities for audience fraud, though early on gave us the four words ‘the future of comedy’.

Taken on its own – these 4 words sound great and would surely push people to see the show, thinking perhaps that the people you might see would, in just a few years, be on Mock The Week or headlining at the Comedy Store. Sadly its full sentence left little to the imagination: ‘If this is the future of comedy then let us forgo the formalities of the apocalypse and, naked, haul ourselves upon hellfire letting damnation rain upon us.’

He did not enjoy the show, bidding people to avoid it, over-emphasising that perhaps with the last line: ‘makes a nuclear holocaust feel like light relief’.

We obviously did not use the ‘the future of comedy’ quote. It would have been too ridiculous and frankly fraudulent of us.

Several of my friends who are legitimate comedians will even go to the lengths of asking the reviewer if their edited words from the review are all right. But others are less scrupulous.

One recent review was sent to me by a comic in disbelief. I am glad to see that other people have a day-job as mundane as mine, and will on occasion read a review of an act and consider Googling it to see if it is accurate. A promoter was advertising a comedian, apparently without his knowledge, with the quote: ‘His warm and quietly genial demeanor calmly holds the room. Will rock your world, have you begging for more’.

The actual review, on this very website, was much less generous:

'With his warm and quietly genial demeanour, he calmly holds a room as he delivers solid, workmanlike jokes that serve their purpose. But little that he says will rock your world, or have you begging for more.’

Now, the whole point of putting reviews on to posters, is that they are short. You have to edit. The need for brevity is part of the reason that so many reviewers give stars for an act. You cannot fit a whole review on there, but a line has to be drawn somewhere – and surely it is removing negatives. If you are going to change the review that much – why not just pick individual letters to make up the words you wanted? Or just make up a review?

You can’t change ‘utterly talentless’ to ‘Utter Talent’, as much as you can place an advert in a publication saying you are ‘charming’ or ‘hilarious’ and then use that as a quote from the publication in question.

People used to put lots more ‘…’ in their reviews, but as people didn’t trust those, worrying what was being left out, people now seem to edit the review as they please without more punctuation.

I’m not sure there is a solution to this dubious re-working of reviews. Some people will continue to take a review extremely seriously and use the exact words only in the unabridged order they were published in as an excerpt. Others will add words, remove negatives and invert meanings.

As a consequence of the dubious copy-shuffling I have recently seen, and now enjoy spotting as a minor sport, I no longer trust any of the short poster/flyer reviews for anyone. Unless they are the strings of epaulette-like five-star rows on a Rhod Gilbert poster. Mind you, I think I’ll be counting them too from now on.

Sadly, I don’t think anything, not even my own posters or flyers, will ever stop me from instantly thinking that “****” is not four stars, but four asterisks, and someone is merely censoring the fact that a reviewer has called your show ‘shit’.

So edit carefully. Or even if you don’t lie, you could end up making yourself sound awful.

Published: 18 Feb 2009

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