Tom Ballard: Taxis & Rainbows & Hatred | Review by Jay Richardson
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Tom Ballard: Taxis & Rainbows & Hatred

Note: This review is from 2015

Review by Jay Richardson

On balance, 2015 has been a positive year for gay equality, with great strides made in Ireland and the US. But the presence of Larry Dean and Tom Ballard on the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award best newcomer shortlist suggests regressive attitudes and outright bigotry towards homosexuality are still enough of an issue to be ripe fodder for ridicule.

Although both men largely circumvent camp stereotypes, Ballard's identification with Gretl Von Trapp notwithstanding, Dean's tale is mostly of internalised family strife.

But the antipodean has something of a television profile in his homeland – not enough to afford a house but still ... – and unpacks his hour from the moment he got into a taxi in Newcastle, Australia, and was told: 'You're that guy. You need to be fixed.'

Unfortunately, this is not the first close-minded cabbie the 25-year-old has met but he's done with meekly holding his tongue. His response is a bracing riposte of a show that while heavy on the self-deprecation and serving of himself up for mockery, is savagely funny and clear-sighted on the underlying factors that keep him from genuine equality.

Growing up in a small town, he didn't come out until he was 18, falteringly, hilariously, so at first to his cousin, the magnitude and awkwardness of the event reflected in the various, painfully formal approaches, he dismisses trying to broach the subject. Heterosexuality was soundly rejected once and for all following a drug-fuelled experiment in New York, the cartoonish depravity and illegality of the account introducing a bit of edge that's a firm grounding for some of the filth to follow.

Aware of his relative privilege, contrasting his experiences with those of gay people in Russia, Uganda and even Ireland, where he brutally nails the hypocrisy of a Catholic pamphlet denouncing sodomy, Ballard nevertheless scrambles to cope with the well-meaning blinkeredness of fans and the many subtle, insidious ways in which Australian society prejudices against him.

From his capacity to have children to a lack of pop culture role models growing up, even an episode of Queer As Folk suggested the rough and tumble of gay sex might have terrible consequences, something he later found to his cost with a trip to the STD clinic.

Yes, he's open about this, and yes, it's disgusting. But so is heterosexual sex he maintains, and with the upstart devilment of a returning member of the colonies, he rascally defiles the red-blooded British monarchy and all that his hosts supposedly hold dear with a graphic mental image that sears itself onto the retina, Ballard screaming 'stay with me!' as he builds to climax.

Dropping down the energy, he then establishes that love is every bit as messy as sex, challenging the idea of there being someone for everyone or plenty more fish in the sea, universal platitudes that he caustically picks apart while laying his own soul bare.

The close of the show is something of a curate's egg, with Ballard acknowledging a lack of outright victory for himself and seemingly eschewing a happy ending. But, perhaps mindful of taxi drivers being the whipping bigots of stand-ups across the globe, he rather bolts on a feelgood example of a prince among their breed that he's encountered, fulfilling narrative demand if not achieving satisfying personal closure.

It's a rare sentimental touch in an hour of otherwise spiky, supremely assured storytelling. And now that Ballard has effectively come out to Edinburgh, anticipation is whetted for what he delivers next.

Review date: 30 Aug 2015
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Assembly George Square

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