Brendon Burns: Dumb White Guy | Review by Steve Bennett
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Brendon Burns: Dumb White Guy

Note: This review is from 2016

Review by Steve Bennett

Whatever the title, professional provocateur Brendon Burns is rarely struck dumb. But even he was lost for words when a man in this audience cheerily piped up with a viciously offensive bit of racist slang.

What’s more, the loaded phrase was delivered with casual affection, not hate. The poor guy was only trying to contribute to the discussion… and Burns HAD previously told us we shouldn’t get too hung up on political correctness, as that’s not the real fight.

The interjection added a spark of frisson to a show already covering topics that can make some people uncomfortable: racism and blinkered white privilege.

After mental illness, it’s probably the second big issue to be bubbling around this festival, as the rise of Donald Trump and the nastier end of the Brexit campaign focus political comedians’ minds on topics of race, national identity and the oversensitive liberal thinking that gave rise to the backlash in the first place. We’re living in a time where ‘racists feel they are politically represented,’ Burns points out, and he wants to offer a counterpoint.

Edinburgh audiences are OK with this sort of thing being brought to the surface – especially as Burns keeps most of his attention on the problems in Australia, the country he left 16 years ago for a new life in Britain. But in Adelaide it was a different story when he tried this material…

He portrays the South Australian city as an unenlightened backwater: home of the second biggest fringe festival on the planet, but a place where guys still shout ‘faggot’ out of moving cars at people marginally different from them. Yeah, artistic liberalism!

This renewed vigour for the topic of race that he’s long been interested in – from his 2007 Perrier-winning I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now to his current Dumb White Guy podcast –  could be seen as the ultimate revenge on the tough time he had in Australia.

And Burns has definitely got a renewed sense of purpose with this show. His moral outrage at the prejudices and segregation that still exist fuels his dynamic performance (well, along with Monster energy drink) and righteous rage.

He’s touched on some of these topics before, not least Australia Day – when a nation as one rises up to celebration the most successful genocide in history by getting pissed and watching sport – but never with quite such intensity. Flagrant racism, the deep-seated problems in indigenous communities, and populations which rarely, if ever, integrate have created a modern-day apartheid, maintained by ignorance and hubris, rather than law. It’s as if Australia has open-carry laws on racism, with truly sickening anti-aboriginal slang in semi-common parlance.

It’s possible Burns is giving a bye to racism closer to home by restricting it to Australia. For despite pointing out it was Brits who massacred the indigenous population, knowing we’re not as bad as down under makes it easier to underplay Britain’s issues with race.

Burns isn’t all sound and fury, though, as he’s playful with some issues. He confesses he always wanted to be a black comic - though not by suffering the daily racism behind their powerful rhetoric, that’s too real. And during this show, you’ll hear the phrase ‘assorted jigaboos and pickaninnies’ more than anywhere else, outside of a press conference with the Foreign Secretary. As some wise puppets once said: ‘Everybody’s a little bit racist,’ and he wants to explore that without pussyfooting around.

Political correctness is a red herring, not a red flag, argues Burns – rarely one to mince his words. Live with being offended, however easy it is to post outrage and herald how pure of heart you are. Instead take arms against the real injustices, and take hurt feelings as being character-building.

‘Don’t follow me, I’m an idiot,’ he insists – which is patently untrue. Even if he hasn’t got the answers, at least he has the right questions.

In one segment, he briefly covers cultural appropriation, then appropriates a phrase of his own from Dane Baptiste, ‘race-dar’: the heightened intuition black folk have for sensing when white guys are feeling uncomfortable about race. And he’s called out on it.

He acknowledges that as a white guy, his opinions on racism mean nothing, though he plays the ‘some of my best friends are black’ to let us know he’s run this material by them, for a seal of approval. And ultimately he’s got an answer to the ‘white perspective’ criticism that can’t be argued with, which he produces with typical floursh

This reveal at the end isn’t quite the ‘gasp!’ moment Burns hypes it as, but it does throw open a new perspective on the issue. It’s this, very rarely heard point of view, which will fuel Burns’ further investigations into race. This, he promises, is only the start as he outlines future projects – and I guarantee you’ll want to hear him report back.

Review date: 25 Aug 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Liquid Room Annexe

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