Stefano Paolini: Britalian

Note: This review is from 2005

Review by Steve Bennett

Comedy, like society in general, is being increasingly populated by second generation immigrants; bringing not only much-welcomed diversity to the circuit but also offering outsiders’ insights to both British culture and their own.

One consequence of the expansion is that you need to offer something special to stand out; simply being a quirk of demographics is no longer enough. And it’s here where half- British, half-Italian Stefano Paolini struggles.

Sure, he’s a nice enough guy, and it’s easy to spend an hour in his company, but many of the jokes don’t rise above the average,

Where his talent does lie is in his vocal cords. He’s a gifted mimic and human beatbox. But how to get these into a show that’s ostensibly about the divided loyalties and rootlessness someone of his background can feel?

The impressions are an easy enough to weave in. Sure, everyone does Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, but if an Anglo-Italian can’t, who can? He even does the Gladiator speech than Dead Ringer Jon Culshaw has almost built an entire career on; though Paolini does top it with a killer punchline.

His talents are also put to good use as he recreates Italian TV advertising, the bizarre dubbing of The Simpsons over there and, most effectively, in introducing us to the mix of oddballs that are his relatives – from the monotone dullard to the uncle with a nose like a sub-woofer that he so memorably describes.

He adds some thoughtful moments, too, discussing the plight of British-based Italians considered  ‘enemy aliens’ and interred by the state backed up with plenty of historical research, if not all that many jokes. He says he’s planning a play on the issue for next year’s Fringe, which might provide a more suitable home for this most serious of subjects.

Just as Paolini’s loyalties are divided between Britain and Italy, so too are they split between his stand-up and his beatboxing. So partway through the show he abandons the talk about his mixed heritage for some vocal showboating – based on the frankly flimsy construct that he wants to enter Eurovision but doesn’t know which nation to represent.

Not that  Eurovision would ever feature the garage or rap he so skilfully reproduces. And while it’s impressive, when he tells you he spend four hours a day for 11 months perfecting one Eminem effect, the obvious question is: ‘why?’ And if you wanted to be specially harsh: ‘Think  of how many jokes you could hae written in that time.’

This section is, fairly blatantly, primarily about showing off the trickery, although it does culminate in a neat imaginings of what Italian-American gangsta rap would be like,  given the Mafia’s omerta pledge of silence.

And that just about sums up Britalian: a few good gags  here and there, nicely delivered, but not quite  enough to convince you’ve seen anything special.

Review date: 1 Jan 2005
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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