A.L. Kennedy

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Normally, you'd have to gatecrash a Royal birthday party to get the sort of pre-Fringe publicity that AL Kennedy has attracted. And it's all because of her day job as a writer of serious, oblique and darkly funny novels. .

You can see the literary background in her comedy, her descriptions are rich and florid, the analogies clever and witty and she's upset by the spread of what she terms 'word abuse'.

But she's not defined solely by her day job. You wouldn't expect to see her in the clubby, incestuous world of the literarti who've gathered at the other end of George Street for the Book Festival. She's too much of a moody, misanthropic loner than that ­ but they're ideal attributes for a comedian.

For a novice stand-up, her delivery is surprisingly fluid and laid back, possibly the benefits of doing many a book reading. She's easy to listen to ­ a bit like a Scottish Sandi Toksvig in her inflections and rhythms ­ and for someone who confesses to be so sullen, remarkably good company.

Material, though, is her weak point. Some is from her day job, such as the boast of 'I've got a novel in me, you know' that she hears every day, but she also covers smear tests (which starts with one of those impressive analogies but descents into the predictable), her opposition to nuclear power (too hung up on making points rather than being funny) or of her own problems in interacting with the world. You suspect Kennedy draws an audience who expect more insight into her novels, but she quite rightly ignores any of that nonsense.

Oddly, it's actually the writing that's the weaker point of her stand-up, despite her appealing turn of phrase. There's a sense she's using allusions to hide behind, using fine words to put a distance between her and the world she's observing and allowing her to avoid exposing too much of herself. The best stand-up is too urgent and passionate to be overly concerned about finding the mot juste, unless it's wordplay, yet Kennedy puts more store in that than in grabbing the joke.

If you knew nothing of her literary achievements, you would think AL Kennedy a promising newcomer, with much in her favour but still to unlock whatever she has inside her that would make her a serious contender. Her development as a comic will be worth following, even without that shadow of fame in another field.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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