Jason John Whitehead: The Joker

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Jason John Whitehead holds no truck with the idea that an Edinburgh show needs a strong theme or message – indeed, he admits he wants his audiences to leave thinking of him: ‘That guy said nothing!’

But there’s a good reason most shows here have a strong theme – and it’s not just to fulfil some bogus artistic remit or to give us reviewers something to write about. It is for the purely pragmatic reason that only a tiny elite of stand-ups can sustain comic momentum for an hour, without some sort of narrative hook.

With a decades experience under his belt, Whitehead is a strong club comic whose show includes some sterling routines – but is not quite in that upper echelon. The looseness of his hour means it will almost inevitably feel lightweight compared to more structured shows on the Fringe, even though it well suits his style of seemingly effortless stand-up.

He’s certainly a thoroughly engaging performer, with a cheeky glint n his eye and a beaming playful smile never far from his lips. He is lively, likeable and remarkably fresh faced given the toll you might expect ten years on the road to have taken – and Whitehead makes no secret of some of the excesses in which he’s indulged over that time. The decade in the job he loves is ostensibly the premise of the show – but, of course, there really is no premise.

The loose-limbed Canadian performs animatedly, arms and body swaying up and down as if worked by an unseen puppeteer. But it’s all completely natural – there are no artificial ingredients in Whitehead’s extended set, either in material or delivery.

This skilled raconteur employs no obvious tricks of the trade. Every character who appears in the stories speaks and acts almost exactly like him – and the anecdotes he tells all come from his own life.

He chats about his former job showing tourists the dolphins of South Carolina, of his Facebook habit – surely likely to be one of the big topics of this festival – of his Irish dad and his girfriend’s Vietnamese family. The simple tales are skilfully embellished, at their best when he’s giving his targets an affectionate ribbing.

Some segments seem to stall: there’s not much going on in his extended description of a man selling plates at a Christmas market, however much he tries to talk it up. But he compensates for it with strong routines elsewhere.

There’s no doubt that Whitehead is a good comic, and that this is a good show. It just falls a little short of having the adjective ‘very’ inserted into that sentence, and so earning that coveted fourth star.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Aug 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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