John Pendal: Monster | Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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John Pendal: Monster

Note: This review is from 2019

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Many comedians who enjoy non-vanilla sex lives exploit their difference from the mainstream for all its worth, seeking to elicit howls of shock as much as howls of laughter from their outlandish exploits.

But John Pendal – a former Mr Leather International, as he’s discussed in previous shows – is far more matter-of-factish about his proclivities, with coy references about what’s done with the ‘wibbly wobbly bits’. For being seen as outrageous would undermine the positive messages of acceptance at the heart of Monster.

He’s not setting out the fetish world as an extreme, just a preference. In fact, he’s squeamish about penetrative sex, which might be odd if you consider that he works in sex education. And for him, the take-out from the kink world is a thorough understanding of constant, enthusiastic and informed consent that everyone would be well-advised to heed.

Pendal is urbane and affable, making every yarn both relatable and personable, a veritable Peter Ustinov of fetish. He’s open about his life, at least in the artificial stand-up environment, suggesting he’s conquering the guilt and shame that have dogged him his whole life.

It’s not hard to see where those feelings, which form the central core of the show, took root, given that he came from hardcore Baptist stock, and as a youth underwent conversion therapy to ‘pray the gay away’. Note to Ann Widdicombe: it doesn’t work.

His low-key approach is warmly welcoming and he’s at pains to put the audience at their ease – going so far as to hand out a fact sheet at the end for those who might have questions but are too shy to ask. ‘Unthreatening’ is definitely a watchword; he even shows cute cat pictures to quell even the mildest disquiet.

But such an underplayed approach can be to the detriment of the laughs and the emotional journey he wants to bring the audience on. Even, today, perhaps, he’s held back by a certain need to fit in. Self-diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, he likes rules and guidelines – which was why he was initially drawn to the church, however much damage it did to his self-esteem.

Over the hour, he relives embarrassing stories from his past, illustrated with cheesy pictures, as he tries to get over the emotional self-flagellation he’s subjected himself to over the years, replaying each cringey moment. The device of ranking each story on a thermometer-style scale of shame adds nothing, though: a gimmick for gimmick’s sake.

The anecdotes are of varying power, yet none quite having the strong impact to remember him by. Instead, you are spending an hour in the warm, good company of a delightful man. Which may be exactly what you need amid the hurly-burly of the Fringe.

Review date: 2 Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon Teviot

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