Phil Nichol: The Naked Racist

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Review from the Brighton Comedy festival, October 2006

Phil Nichol isn’t the first comic to spin a routine out of a drink and drug-fuelled visit to Amsterdam, and he surely won’t be the last.

But he is, perhaps, the only one to be intimidated by a gang of Dutch skinheads as his addled brain tried to take in the monument to the gay people persecuted by the Nazis. And he’s certainly the first to try to confront these aggressors by stripping naked and running through the streets after them.

The thing is, it made perfect sense to him at the time - and not just because he was high. He’d previously encountered the Doukhobors, Russian pacifists who diffused aggression by shedding their clothes, many of who emigrated to his native Canada.

Nichol’s brilliance as a performer is to get you to believe wholeheartedly in whatever insane theory he’s espousing or whatever illogical behaviour he’s sanctioning. At his encouragement, people in the audience willingly shed items of clothing after he somehow convinces them that it’s a worthwhile act of anti-war protest.

Under cold, detached scrutiny, Nichol’s ideas and trains of thoughts barely stand-up – but that’s to miss the point. He’s an electrifying comic who lives in the moment, and uses every formidable talent at his disposal to make sure every one of those moments is as strange as it is unforgettable.

So, at the time, it makes perfect sense that he performs the last ten minutes of the show butt-naked. Despite the fact he waves his genitals recklessly at the audience, and clambers intimidatingly through the rows, it all seems perfectly logical, rather than uncomfortable or exhibitionist. And that can’t be right.

Until we get to this point, Nichol incorporates all manner of incidents and routines into this anecdotal narrative: rows with his girlfriend, heavy metal parodies performed with the aid of his backing band, visits to fetish clubs – it’s all grist to his mill that might look relatively standard stand-up fare when listed in print, but is brought to animated life by Nichol’s sheer vigour, energy and unflinching commitment to his material.

They are qualities that won him the Perrier – sorry, if.comeddie – at this year’s Edinburgh ahead of cleverer, more stringently structured comedy. Although it does have an underlying message of peace and love, this wasn’t a show engineered to impress comedy judges, it was just an hour of him having unconstrained fun around a loose narrative - an infectious sentiment given the powerhouse delivery. You will be won over – you have no say in the matter.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Brighton, October, 2006

Original Edinburgh review

Many comics have come to Edinburgh with the intention of highlighting the injustices of the Iraq war, and encouraging audiences to rail against it. But none have done so in quite the same way Nichol does: by encouraging everyone to take their clothes off in protest. This might sound like a typical madcap idea Nichol would dream up but in fact it's based on an historical precedent that he goes through in some detail.

But that's just the end of the show, the other 50 minutes are a whirlwind of stories and anecdotes based around a trip to Amsterdam. We learn about Nichol's break-up with his girlfriend, a sexual encounter with a one-legged girl and his pursuit by a group of neo-Nazis. The material itself is great and Nichol structures it wonderfully, using the framing Amsterdam story to allow for other digressions.

But it's the presentation where Nichol truly shines - his verbal delivery is at such a fast pace he would give Natalie Haynes a run for her money, but the whole thing is peppered with funny voices, sound effects and facial expressions that take the laughter at a punchline to a whole new level.

Nichol has a flair for producing strange voices and odd noises, but, unlike some comics, doesn't dwell on them. It's the lightning-fast nature of these digressions into odd sounds that adds to the humour, as no sooner have you started laughing at the bizarreness of it all, Nichol has moved on to something else, returning to them should the situation require it. Add to this the fact that Nichol seems to be constantly running around (and even off) the stage, physically acting out many of the situations he's describing and you also have a very gifted physical comic who can get laughs from body movements or facial expressions.

Nichol isn't just relating these anecdotes, he's performing them as a one-man show, complete with physical interpretation, different voices and sound effects, all done at such speed as to utterly saturate your visual and auditory senses.

Perhaps the most telling show of Nichol's ability as a comic is when, just before starting a song, his guitar string breaks. Rather than do a poor 4-string performance of the song, Nichol rushes off stage and returns in seconds with a replacement string, changing it live on stage as the audience look on. And he makes it funny. Funny to the point where you wonder if it wasn't all a set up. To get laughs out of something as mundane as that, while keeping up the ridiculously high energy he's created in the room takes a real talent.

This hour-long show flies by and reaches a stunningly bizarre but somewhat fitting end far too quickly, but at the same time Nichol crams so much in it seems like even longer.

Plus there's nudity and deathly serious points about the war in Iraq. At the same time.

Reviewed by: Dean Love
Edinburgh, August, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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