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Mark Stephenson: Half Man Half Amazing

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

Mark Stephenson has something in common with Richard Pryor. They both set themselves on fire: Pryor while freebasing cocaine; Stephenson mucking around with car upholstery polish in the woods near his house.

Sadly, that’s where the similarities end, as this is rather a disappointing debut from a much-tipped act, nominated for Chortle best newcomer gong last year, no less. He aims high, but gets overwhelmed with his philosophising at the expense of funnies.

Stephenson has made a noble attempt to make the show sincere and meaningful. It’s about the mundanity of 9-5 life in a service economy that manufactures nothing but makes us all consumers with almost infinite choice for things we don’t need. It’s about the culture of spin than means Barack Obama can capitalise on Nelson Mandela’s legacy – even though his administration still detains people without trial at Guantanamo. It’s about whether you need religious faith to be a good man, like his father, or whether pure altruism can exist.

All weighty stuff, but it’s turns out a bit academic, only occasionally punctuated with a joke, a wry smile and a thin, nervous laugh. The gags can be expertly put, but they struggle under the weight of surrounding opinion and downbeat approach.

He’s not depressed about the world, but neither is he particularly cheery about it. Ironically enough, he’s happy with his unhappiness. But that’s a hard position to pull off, and too often his delivery has an indifferent, insouciant flavour that can, unfortunately, add to the feeling this is a dry lecture. He doesn’t muster enthusiasm for much, and that includes performance.

The arguably more trivial personal stories prove wittier; such as his living in ‘stoic solitude’, getting aroused near yachts (a one-off, not a fetish) and the agoraphobic mum, who provides a delightful image. These are often just throwaway images, but are marvelously vivid ones.

But this doesn’t gel together particularly well with the more universal concerns, and the embers of a show which never really caught alight, fizzled out at the end.

Review date: 24 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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