Karen Dunbar

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Karen Dunbar's doing rather well for herself in her native Scotland. A star of the BBC show Chewin The Fat, she's gone on to make four series of her own sketch show, garnering two Rose d'Or nominations. But south of the border, nothing. Barely a blip on the radar. When Dawn French last week bemoaned the lack of younger female comics, no one mentioned Dunbar.

It's odd to think why her fame hasn't travelled, as she's got a lot of mainstream-friendly charm and a marketable line of universal observations ­ a little bland for my ears, but perfectly decent material that, judging by this sold-out Gilded Balloon audience, proves very popular. She could easily be sold as a female, Scottish Peter Kay.

She's certainly learned a lot from the Bolton lad. If nothing else, the fact that you don't need to go to the effort of writing a short, sharp opening gag to win the audience over when you can use a cheesy Seventies classic instead. Kay has his Amarillo, Dunbar has I Was Born With A Smile On My Face. As the beats pound, she gallops around the stage encouraging us all to clap and join in with the energy of a demented aerobics instructor.

She's like a virus, infectious and Ayr-born, manipulating the audience from the very start by getting them join in with some call-and-response business, and she slips in plenty of snatches of populist hits to make a connection. Not subtle, but effective.

Her material suggests a clear demographic: bad emotionally manipulative afternoon telemovies, the Mama Mia musical, supermarket ready meals. They don't crave excitement in their entertainment or their cooking or their comedy.

She does broaden the material base, with talk of pubic hair, the very mention of attracts shrieks of shock, even though it's pretty standard comic fare, and she's not saying anything particularly rude. Her tale of encountering a floating turd while swimming in the sea is a little more ikky, mind, but it is well-told.

Dunbar is very animated, even when she doesn't really need to be. For instance, describing the queue at a popular Chinese restaurant going all the way round the block, she sweeps her arm round 360 degrees and does a little jog around the stage to illustrate this obscure, hard-to-understand phrase 'around the block'.

Yet it works. She is an expert performer, and that more than disguises any weaknesses in the material.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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