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Chris And Paul Show

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

A good ‘best newcomer’ shortlist makes you go ‘Who?’ A poor one makes you go, ‘Why?’

This year the first criterion was definitely fulfilled with The Chris & Paul Show, as a genuine new discovery was thrust unexpectedly into the Edinburgh Comedy Awards limelight. Yesterday’s surprise announcement clearly caught the industry on the hop, as the audience for the first show after the nomination was announced was half-human, half-notebook as critics, myself included, rushed to play catch-up.

And after watching gifted New Yorkers Chris O'Neill and Paul Valenti, who describe themselves as modern vaudevillians, the ‘why’ question is firmly answered, too. They are sharp physical performers – reminiscent of the best silent comedy stars – with a keen sense of melodrama, surprise and the absurd, often all at once.

It takes a while for their charm to work its magic, though. They open with an interminably slow scene full of excruciating pauses that prepares you only for an hour of discomfort. Thankfully, that was a one-off – and although they are not afraid of quieter moments, the pair are judicious in their use.

They largely treat each other like squabbling siblings, always spoiling for a fight but so ineffectual when it comes to trading blows. In the first scene where this happens, you think you have them sussed – but then get treated to an out-of-nowhere punchline. It’s not the only time that such a surprise happens either. One particular scene – to call them sketches would seem to demean their unquestionable artistry – builds up the tension so beautifully, then punctures it so hilariously with just two short words, it’s one of the best single moments of the Fringe.

Wringing moments for drama is the pair’s forte. A scene may be ridiculous – an Easter Bunny distributing chocolate eggs, for example – but they can spin in into menace on a sixpence. Very Donnie Darko. A similar switcheroo happens when Valenti starts a talking to an unseen class of infants, in a Joyce Grenfell-y kind of way, only for a tragic back story to emerge during a jaunty kids’ song.

Their performance skills are beyond doubt, just one look at the scene where O'Neilli inflated like a giant balloon man is proof of that, and their comic timing for individual gags impeccable. The pacing of the show is less perfect, as the vast majority of scenes take a fair time to set up so if the payoff needs to be worth the wait and occasionally, such as in the otherwise silly bumblebee sketch, it doesn’t always happen.

But these two are certainly slick, talented and with undoubted funny bones, like their compatriots The Pajama Men, but different. You might not have heard of them 24 hours ago – despite their 11 years working together – but you will surely hear more.

Review date: 25 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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