Howard Read: The Little Howard Appeal

Note: This review is from 2005

Review by Steve Bennett

With animated six-year-old ‘standing-up’ comic Little Howard, Howard Read has invented something that is  firmly establishing itself as a welcome Fringe franchise.

But the problem with franchise is that, no matter how good the product,  you’re essentially robbed of the element of surprise.

If you’ve never seen a Little Howard show before, then do so. You’ll be charmed by his antics, impressed at the technology and will probably laugh a fair bit. If you have been before, then you’ll know exactly what to expect, and there’s little I can tell you about this year’s outing that you won’t already predict.

The premise is that our two-dimensional hero has slipped into a coma, from which only laughter (or really good reviews) can rouse him. Thus employing the ‘laugh or the kid gets it’ guilt, Read leads us through a series of sketches and stand-up, with a substitute supposedly playing Little Howard’s role so effectively you won’t spot any difference.

This year’s show is in the early-afternoon slot, perhaps indicating Read’s ready to embrace the kid-appeal he’s resisted until now, leaving the grown-up stuff for his stand-up show in the evening. Some of the laughs still come from the characters swearing, only now it’s bleeped out – and the best gags will soar way over young heads.

There are some knowing insiders’ comments about comedy, and some cunning satires on everything from children’s books to the videos played between bands at Live 8. The devil is in the detail, and you congratulate yourself on everything you spot.

In the broader picture, some of the sketches don’t really work, and the pace is too slow. And anything that goes too far from the interaction between Big and Little Howard (a classic double-act relationship if ever I saw one) or between Little Howard and a game audience member seems to flounder a bit.

Yet when it’s good, it’s very good – and you’ve got to love Little Howard’s song-and-dance number in Trafalgar Square, the Tarot reading that’s even better for knowing you’ve only seen a tiny fragment of the possible outcomes, or the affectionate mocking of children’s picture books.

The usual supporting cast is here, the H-BOT 2000 joke-telling robot from the future, and the wonderful Roger, the Howards’ ruthless, if not-quite-so-foul-mouthed-these-days manager, who is a pigeon. They are, after all, what we’ve come to expect – much like the rest of this sporadically great show.

Review date: 1 Jan 2005
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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