James Dowdeswell Explores Dowdesworld

Note: This review is from 2003

Review by Steve Bennett

In a world where everyone needs an angle, it's hard for a well-adjusted, middle-class white boy from a perfect family background to stand out as a comedian.

James Dowdeswell admits as much himself. "It was an idyllic experience that ill prepared me for stand-up," he says of his childhood. And later he adds: "There's not much that gets me angry."

So with no suppressed fury, and no personality defects, he instead employs a quirky, observational approach, combining gently amusing anecdotes with some pleasantly offbeat 'what if...' imaginings.

He's not quite as bland as he self-deprecatingly makes out, though. For starters he has uniquely frizzy hair and a lazy eye that makes him stand out, physically at least, in a crowd, providing the basis for a couple of the more polished routines.

Other material sometimes tends towards the formulaic - especially that template so loved by impressionists: what if this famous person did a job with which they are not normally associated. So we hear, for example, how Alan Hansen might sound as a war correspondent or Samuel L Jackson advertising Fairy Liquid.

While amusing enough, he only really hits gold with this approach once, and that's when his subject is the obscure Cyril Cunliffe - a West Country station announcer. This genuinely is a classic routine, and you'll never pronounce the word 'Exeter' the same again.

The set generally pans out in the same easy-going vein, producing wry chuckles now and again; heartier laughs, too. But Dowdeswell currently lacks that mysterious X-factor that would make spending an hour with him something really special.

The answer may lie in delightful little tale towards the end, when he tells of a recent date and how a tramp he had previously befriended almost certainly ruined it. It's personal, slightly eccentric and gets the audience rooting for him - especially when it ends in ambiguous uncertainty.

Daniel Kitson may have spearheaded this sort of touching, delicate comedy of awkwardness since his Fringe show last year. But there's surely room for more than one comic to follow the same style, and the next could well be the scrawny Mr Dowdeswell.

Review date: 1 Jan 2003
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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