Nick Helm: Phoenix From The Flames | Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett
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Nick Helm: Phoenix From The Flames

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Taking to the Edinburgh Fringe stage for his first proper run in six years, Nick Helm growls the lyrics to his opening tracks: ‘Been knocked down, kicked around, gonna pick myself up from the ground….’

He is the ultimate underdog, resolutely dragging his battered ego and weary body back through yet another show, whatever life and career has thrown at him. He might blast out the songs and his trademark opening volley of corny gags, each topped with an elaborate airhorn-heavy rock sting, but it’s a cry of desolate defiance more than unqualified triumph.

In Phoenix From The Flames, his off-stage struggles come to the fore. He acknowledges that the comedy landscape has changed since he’s been away, with a focus on more serious personal issues – and it’s a movement he’s happy to board.

So this is his quietest, most introspective show yet – though all things are relative - as he opens up about the anxiety and depression that make it such an effort to leave the bed, let alone the house. It’s a sensitive portrait of the fragility of mental health, delivered by a scraggly, sweaty, bearded man in Kylie hotpants.

Depression needn’t be depressing is his rallying cry, and he finds tart humour in his humiliations, whether in real life or at work, where he expresses pitiful bitterness that his fame is lagging behind such near-contemporaries as Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan, whose Sky sitcom The Reluctant Landlord Helm appeared in.

He desperately bullies the audience to enjoy the show to give him that validation he so desperately needs, and between maudlin self-examination he turns on the showbusiness swagger.

So the pounding, big-production glam-rock songs are still present, if less prominently than before and with a poignant subtext. The track Fuck You All Night might sound like typical alpha-male rock-star bragging – but in this case it refers to the side-effects of his antidepressants that make it impossible for him to climax.

Much of the talk is how people have let him down, such as fans not supporting his career as much as he demands, in a routine in which he temporarily borrows Stewart Lee’s technique of whispered repetition. Meanwhile, encountering a woman whose carefree spirit seemed to be the antidote to the funk that enveloped him led only to further disappointment.

Phoenix From The Flames has more shade than you might expect from grizzled showman Helm, but it makes for a richer hour without totally losing the sense of him being a big beast of comedy. But here he’s the bear pacing restlessly in a zoo enclosure, lashing out occasionally, rather than rampaging unhindered through the woods.

Review date: 7 Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Dome

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