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Iain Stirling: Fringe 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Jay Richardson

Graduating from a tough school to a law degree from Edinburgh University, Iain Stirling has put his education to use as the sidekick of Hacker, a puppet dog on CBBC.

To judge by his mother’s Facebook page, he’s not even her favourite of the two. Fame with seven-year-olds has taken him as far as the Manchester branch of Poundland, where he was branded a ‘fucking clown’ in a dispute over a bin.

He extracted from that argument a desire to embrace his clown side. And a Cliff Richard calendar.  In what Stirling acknowledges is one of the more contrived means of structuring an Edinburgh Fringe solo debut, he links, with virtually no justification, some pretty disparate stand-up through the ridiculous poses Sir Cliff has assumed in various adventurous settings.

That most of these are way beyond parody doesn’t really help him, as he coasts on the laughs generated by the mere flip of a page. Moreover, with a front row of teenage girls revelling in a children’s presenter saying naughty things, there’s perhaps an opportunity missed in a 24-year-old pin-up failing to recognise his affinity with the Peter Pan of Pop.

And therein perhaps lies his problem. Instantly engaging, with an amiable anecdotal style and the capacity to write sharp gags, Stirling hasn’t developed as quickly as might have been expected since breaking onto the circuit. It is speculation to suggest the demands of working in television each weekday and gigging at night has compressed his writing opportunities. But he obviously appreciates what it takes to produce a good Edinburgh Fringe hour and this is only a so-so approximation of that. Flashing up visual gags on a screen, he stops to admonish himself: ‘What are you doing? You’re not Dave Gorman!’

He offers that most familiar yarn of the travelling comedian, the embarrassing fallout of a train toilet door sliding open at the least opportune moment. He delights in the affectionate Glaswegian use of ‘cunt’, a clichéd shout out that even the biggest Glaswegian cunt is getting bored of by now. Trawling through his mother’s Facebook page is none too inspiring either. Yes, you’ve guessed it, she’s not particularly technology-savvy.

But then he’ll deliver some wry recollections on how school nicknames stick, and recall a straight-faced sex education teacher trying manfully to explain contraception to a pregnant 14-year-old. There’s a lovely, self-deprecating edge to his protest at the BBC Scottishing up his image. And he really approaches the peak of his powers with a cruel characterisation of Megabus travellers and a friend’s posh girlfriend, observations from both ends of the class spectrum that resist stereotype with astute, perceptive writing.

Stirling is a stand-up to watch, no question. But hopefully not on children’s television for too much longer.

Review date: 18 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Underbelly Bristo Square

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