The Lumberjacks

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

They are three excellent comics who, you would hope, could surely each tour under their own name. Or maybe not, as Guildford’s 1,000-seat G Live venue is only about a third full.

But Canadians Stewart Francis, Craig Campbell and Glenn Wool exude a vibe that this isn’t all ‘aboot’ the money. The Lumberjacks is the Edinburgh show that launched them all on to the UK scene 16 years ago, and the revival feels like a chance for three mates to hang out on the road, an antidote to the isolation of solo touring. That camaraderie injects a warmth into the whole show.

Francis breaks, or at least slightly chips, his usual deadpan to compere. At the head of the show, he chats with the audience, but although badinage is not his his strong suit, there is a lot of affection for him as he pads between the quirky one-liners with which he made his reputation. He stresses the Canadian-ness of this show – although the comics’ nationality is secondary to their talent – and tries out a few newer puns, with mixed effect.

When he returns to for the second half, though, he presents a ‘greatest hits’ package of his quips that are both delightfully quirky and magnificently efficient. Each is so concise, his routine is like the wittiest Twitter feed you ever read... though for him 140 characters would be an epic. And you would never get the full effect of his Chipmunk voice, if not live. Exquisite stuff.

Wool starts with a reprisal of a gag he first did 16 years ago, showing he was sharp even then. However at least half of his set is much newer material, taking advantage of the ‘safety in numbers’ of touring with a line-up. The whole show’s not hung on his name, so he can mess about with it without fear – which does lead him to be a little too laid back (to follow a stereotypical Canadian trait) to smash every line hard.

Yet there’s some great stuff here, as he resumes his normal status as a stoner-philosopher, with special emphasis on the world’s religions. It’s a common comic territory, but Wool approaches the subject with affectionate curiosity, approaching faith to be like an odd little animal he wants to prod and play with, not quite figuring out how it works. He’s not setting out to be offensive, just puckish with the big issues.

Other than religion, a main theme is the over-reactive language used by the self-important: you’re not ‘bullied’ if someone takes issue with you; you don’t ‘suffer’ a minor inconvenience; and a jobsworth casually using words like ‘abuse’ demeans the real victims. It’s a good point, but more importantly he makes it with hilarity.

And lest you think this makes it sound like a weighty set... Wool is also the creator of some perfectly silly puns, of which he’s rightly super-proud.

He is probably the least famous of the trio. His ‘I don’t know who you are, either’ aside to the audience certainly striking a chord. But there will probably me more folk seeking him out after tonight.

After a cute three-handed sketch to launch the second half, comes Craig Campbell.

He’s often been called the Grizzly Adams of stand-up – and with his wild hair, rugged beard and outdoorsman mentality, you can see why that sticks. But the essence of his humour is how he fails to live up to that machismo image.

He thinks he’s rock-and-roll, but give him ‘push-button morphine’ in a hospital bed, and he becomes a helpless child. He’s hapless when attacked by birds, as described in a wonderfully slapstick routine about an ‘attack duck’, and can’t surf or even show a visitor around his native British Columbia without making a fool of himself.

One thing he is good at, though, is compelling storytelling, spinning yarns of his humiliation like the finest campfire raconteur.

Egged on by a member of the audience, he ends with a rather graphic description of an Amsterdam sex party – which he’s keen to make sure we’re all complicit in sharing, just to deflect any backlash to the inevitable bad taste. Yet while the subject matter is unpalatable, this is not shock comedy, as it’s his human, vulnerable reaction to the depravity he sees that’s funny.

The Lumberjacks is an irresistible mix of comedians, three skilful practitioners with very different styles offering a mix of smart, stupid, self-deprecating, social commentary with puns, anecdotes and even bursts of song. This has to be Canada’s greatest export since maple syrup.

Review date: 11 May 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Guildford G Live

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