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Tom Rosenthal: Child Of Privilege

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Tom Rosenthal’s taken quite an audacious approach to his Edinburgh debut, mixing ambitious high-concept, comedy in-jokes and nerdy logic all designed to play to the cognoscenti. The result is probably something that could only ever work at this festival, and although it often threatens to be more clever than funny, it’s nonetheless a reasonably impressive piece of work.

Stylistically, it’s similar to the occasional stand-up of his Friday Night Dinner co-star Simon Bird, with whom he professes to have a frosty relationship. But hey-ho, Bird’s not here – too busy making hit British movies or something – so Rosenthal has free run of the territory.

The premise of the show is twofold. One, that as the son of sports commentator Jim Rosenthal, Tom had a privileged upbringing, attending the poshest schools and never having to worry about money. The second is that being born in the West in the latter half of the 20th century, we are all of us more privileged than humans at any other time or place.

To demonstrate the divide between the haves and have-nots, he divides the audience – by velvet rope, of course – into two classes. One gets cushions, Ferrero Rocher handed out by butler Leonard and even an exclusive bit of comedy, all of which is denied to the rest, who must learn to be happy with their lot.

For all the trappings, though, there is straightforward stand-up at the heart of this. Rosenthal takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to having a famous dad, who he clearly finds faintly embarrassing because of his professional hyperbole, naff brand of celebrity, and feud with Heston Blumenthal over the food poisoning at his Fat Duck restaurant.

More universal topics such as toothless Facebook activism, Pimp My Ride, the 72 virgins promised to suicide bombers and Andy Murray’s narcissism are all weaved into the proceedings. But Rosenthal makes no bones about his aims for this debut – stating unequivocally that he wants to win an award to trump the one he got for student comedy two years ago.

Hence all the clever gimmicks, and the blatant, self-confessed rip-off of Stewart Lee’s ‘self-indulgent, painstaking and pedantic’ method that the critics so love. And if that doesn’t work, maybe he can have a Fringe feud with the respected BBC Two grouch that’ll score him some free PR. This is one massive in-joke, but by so boldly declaring it so, Rosenthal pulls it off – a strategy for much of the show.

The only bit that doesn’t quite work are his PowerPoint frames on philosophical logic, trying to make some use of his degree. But he attacks the slides with such ferocious speed, the shortcomings are easily overlooked.

Needless to say the show’s got the sort of structure and narrative it’s assumed you need to win one of those coveted awards, and it’s quite satisfying how all the strands come together at the end. It’s not entirely a surprise – the engineering behind proceedings is never too far from view – but it’s a neat, proper ending to a neat, proper show.

Review date: 9 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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