Brendon Burns: So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now [Montreal]

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

The English-language component of Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival has barely begun, but already Brendon Burns’s confrontational show is attracting the sort of critical buzz that helped it land Edinburgh’s biggest prize last August.

With good reason, too. With a bellicose title like So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now, audiences come expecting another shock-comic tirade of foul-mouthed aggression that takes no prisoners. And sure, enough, there is plenty of that.

But Burns also has the brains to add some thought-provoking context to the abuse; to advance an argument about what causing and taking offence actually means. More cleverly, he leaves the conclusions deliberately ambiguous, allowing the audience to follow their own route.

Taking offence, this provocative show argues, is just a selfish, arrogant act – a mixture of self-pity and self-piety stoking an ego-boosting persecution complex. ‘What about me? It’s SO unfair.’ Burns made such a whine himself when TV producers insisted he wear a stereotypical Australian cork hat on air. It’s so demeaning he whimpered; the offender becoming offendee for a change.

All of a sudden, the flipside is given an airing. That every nasty put-down ever doled out on race, sex or religion is also a oppressive assertion of self-importance. Of course some words have destructive power, and comedians who flippantly set out to cause offence with no concern for the consequences – of whom Burns, by his own admission, was one for a long time – should take some responsibility.

The one big, surprise joke that gives the show its emotive punch depends very much on how people react to the two conflicting arguments. Knowing this means that a second viewing of the show is analtogether different experience to the first. You watch how your fellow audience members react – a task made easier by the mirrors on stage – as much as you watch Burns’s explosive yet playful performance.

In Montreal tonight, his audience has a good ethnic mix, adding to the feel of discomfort at some of the rants. They are a little reluctant to take offence – and sometimes at the oddest places – but gradually they become more vocal with their disapproval. Burns, a veteran comedy brawler, thrives on this dissent, goading the mob into protest then hitting back aggressively hard.

His offensive jokes are, of course, extremely funny. Laughter is a reflex from surprise, and because his jokes respect no boundaries, the shock of hearing him say the unsayable gets the guffaws… even if they are often accompanied by sharp intakes of breath, too. These are not guilt-free laughs.

This is a more refined version of the Edinburgh show, too. Apart from the necessary rejigging of cultural references, the arguments have been sharpened, there’s a bit more give and take with the balance of comedian-audience power and Burns has turned his volume down from 11 to a more welcome 9.5. Still loud, but your eardrums stand at least some chance of going unperforated.

It all helps to emphasise the valid – and sometimes invalid – discussion points that underpin the show. This is stand-up you could probably write a sociology thesis on. But Burns and his team never forget this is comedy, and when the dust finally settles, it’s neither the freedom to insult someone nor stifling political correctness that wins out, it’s silliness. And no one could possibly take offence at that… could they?

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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