Edward Aczel: Trust Me, There Is No Hope

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Jokes? They’re so last millennium. Edward Aczel has eschewed not only punchlines, but just about any overt attempts at humour. It is the ultimate in post-modernism, a new form of minimalist stand-up.

He does all the things a nervous rookie comic does, relying on notes on the back of his hand as he umms and aahs his way through badly-constructed material. Yet this faltering performance is the joke itself, making a virtue of this apparent failings. In a world of slick stand-ups, he taps into the collective love of the underdog – and with bizarre success.

While most comics adopt the alpha-male stance, Aczel is way down the Greek alphabet. His audience feel sorry for him, and certainly aren’t too intimidated to chip in helpful contributions of their own, frequently funnier than anything Aczel himself can devise.

Over this near-hour-long show, a sort of Blitz spirit evolves, cheery in the face of adversity. We’re stuck in this darkened room with only a bumbling amateur for entertainment, so we might as well make the best of its. Aczel’s tricky highwire act is to encourage this and exploit his own incompetence – whether real or affected, we’re never quite sure – without making the audience turn.

At the start of the show, this middle-aged Roy Kinnear lookalike proudly catalogues his previous attendances (low) and walkouts (high), but when a front-row punter takes genuine umbrage at this amiable buffoon’s lack of gags, it’s badly handled. ‘Tell us a joke, mate,’ is a heckle you’d have thought he’d be used to by now, even when it comes dripping with acrimony.

But instead of such phoney conceits as jokes, the endearingly unaffected Aczel just bumbles away. He spends the first part of the show cataloguing the topics he’s going to tackle from the list his hand: The Spanish Armada, Liverpool Football Club: The Bill Shankley Years, The Fate Of Mankind. Then turns to each of them in sequence, saying nothing of value.

His banter with the audience is equally barren. In reply to his requests for topics to discuss, he’s offered ‘Charles Darwin’. ‘Darwin,’ he sighs heavily. ‘Evolution.’ Then he exhales wearily, showing a resigned lack of interest. That’s it, topic covered.

Yet it’s all remarkably funny, doing to comedy what Tommy Cooper did to magic. But for all the anti-comedy, he does occasionally attempt a proper joke – and immediately reveals why he shouldn’t bother. We can laugh at his ineptness, but it’s a delicate balance he needs to strike between ironically rubbish and actually rubbish.

Eventually, the scales do tip the wrong way, and as he ends the show singing weakly and out of tune to a couple of backing tracks, he’s used up all his modest charm, ad the goodwill fizzles out.

But for a surprisingly large proportion of the hour, Aczel holds the room, thanks in part to such distractions as a deconstructed pub quiz where he gives the answers in advance, and the presence of fellow comic John Smith as a nagging sidekick in the audience.

However the big attraction is that you’re unlikely to have seen a comic quite like Aczel before – at least not deliberately – which makes for a totally unexpected hour. And what is a joke but the revelation of the unexpected? Aczel is possibly a genius for seeing this; or possibly a fool who got lucky. Either way, his show’s a unique comedy experience.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Hen & Chickens, London; December 2007

Review date: 1 Dec 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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