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Russell Kane: Human Dressage - Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Jay Richardson

In a show preoccupied with ‘the passion and the pause’, those quintessential bursts of British emotion followed by speedy resumption of the stiff upper lip, Russell Kane evokes social posturing, dancing and memorably, masturbation.

Unfortunately, last year’s if.comedy nominee is such a committed sociology student that he can’t just passionately deliver his material, and is forever pausing himself to contextualise what’s he saying. His hustle remains, but the flow’s off.

Class-consciousness, pretension and a ready self-deprecation have always been part of what makes Kane such a gifted, distinctive comic. But his development stalls here because he can’t get over himself. He opens by thanking us for being a Saturday night audience and bemoans the arty crowds he’s had thus far, apparently guilty of analysing his comedy as deeply as he has. ‘So far, so platitudinously obvious comedy elite,’ he remarks at one point, then later expresses surprise that so many enjoy the wanking gags.

Judging rather than letting himself be judged, getting his self-criticism in first, seem as instinctive to Kane as the kicks and skips he reinforces his points with on stage. His most elaborate dance he reserves for critics, immediately qualifying a joke with scarcely mentionable prejudice by imagining his feint frustrating a Guardian reviewer. Said in jest, it’s nevertheless part of a bizarre, ongoing ritual whereby any negative reception he anticipates for his routines are already written into them.

You don’t need to be Freud to attribute some of this passive-aggressiveness to his racist, overbearing father, principally because Kane does it for you, reiterating that his left-wing politics are a reaction against the old man and suggesting he took his A-levels through spite.

Yet here is where he flashes his brilliance. He may repeatedly and needlessly lay claim to facts for backing up his arguments, but his recalled rush of ‘dad love’ for the RAC man says more about changing male behaviour than any stats about falling sperm counts and muscle density.

It’s the personal stuff, the memories of his oft-evoked nan and his studious research into pornography that lends weight to his more sweeping statements. Though he’s negligent when he claims that Australians’ optimistic disposition will protect them from terrorist reprisals, overlooking the 2002 Bali bombing.

While his closing routine about how he’s messed up his younger brother is weak compared to what’s gone before, there’s nevertheless plenty of astute and funny observations in this hour about age, nationalities, gender and sexuality. It’s just a shame that Kane won’t always let his audience decide that for themselves.

Review date: 24 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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