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James Acaster: Prompt: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

At first, James Acaster seems like one of those newer comics who are steeped in ironic detachment, a convenient cover for their own shyness. He comes on stage with no enthusiasm, talking about this brilliant show that is going to blow your mind in an awkward, hesitant style that doesn’t match the braggadocio.

But it soon transpires he’s not only a quirky, inventive writer, but also a comedian who’s not afraid to ‘commit to the bit’. Taking the mickey out of repetitive football chants, for example, could be easy pickings – but he extends his spoof to such ridiculous levels that his determination to see it through becomes funny. And even more so that he directs his entire performance at one poor punter who happened to catch his eye. There’s a touch of Stewart Lee in the way he hammers home the point repeatedly, but without joining the army of clones.

Over the hour he mixes observational stand-up with more deliberately eccentric set pieces. For the former he has a meticulous eye for the most minor detail – but it is not detached study; the best moments are when he articulates common reactions to situations, such as the uncomfortable forebodeing he feels about having to share a platonic bed with another man.

Nor does he try to be an everyman, he’s just odd enough that you could believe he gets excited about Pancake Day or that he’s genuinely interested in cow-based meteorology or conducting research on bread. This latter topic gives him an excuse to bring out the obligatory nerd-comic charts and graphs explaining his research among both humans and ducks, but it’s more than a gimmick.

Acaster has put as much attention to the structure of the hour as he has to his distinctive jokes. There are some long-range callbacks, an unlikely source of poignancy, and ideas that cleverly resurface in unusual ways  to make this a satisfying experience, not just a string of unrelated jokes and offbeat comments.

Although he might not immediately seem confident on stage, that’s exactly how you’d describe his writing… and there’s much more to him than meets the eye. Like his beloved ducks, beneath that placid exterior there’s a lot of work and energy being invested.

Review date: 3 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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