Brandon Wardell | Review of the visiting US stand-up
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Brandon Wardell

Review of the visiting US stand-up

Simply put, Brandon Wardell cannot perform to an audience who are not already fans. 

Making his UK debut at the Soho Theatre, the 29-year-old American comic is baffled that half the audience took a chance on him without already knowing his work, much of it online (39million TikTok views). It puts him on the defensive, dispelling any expectations that this might be a show with narrative while constantly using our unfamiliarity with him as a reason why gags aren’t getting the reactions he wants. 

This insecurity is mixed with an undercurrent of arrogance, both that we should be responding better and that we really ought to know who he is. But the vibe is disconcerting. If he keeps questioning why the audience are here, we can’t help asking ourselves the same question, especially when the material is this patchy.

Sometimes this flips into winning self-deprecation. The advertising for this show boasts that he’s ‘known for his… appearances in Curb Your Enthusiasm’. Yet he acknowledges it was a five-second appearance as a background character known only as ‘millennial guy’. But while the confession is funny, it still feels like false advertising.

Wardell’s lack of confidence in his material – or at least in it working here – pervades the show. But he hasn’t really considered the translation. For example, there’s a bit about the right-wing rallying cry ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ – big in the US, little-known here – which he doesn’t explain properly before a joke that would be weak even if you were aware of its ubiquity.

Indeed, a lot of the material is pedestrian: jerking off to Instagram, paedophilia references, the bitchy tweets of Donald Trump, slagging off more successful comedians, paedophilia references again, lying in relationships… The gags are usually reasonable, and sometimes subvert their hackiness, but the landscape feels tired.

Other sections are stronger, with a sharp understanding of millennial thinking and shallow, slogan-led social campaigning (‘this bit will get a 4-star Guardian review, he hopes). But the hour’s so loose, Wardell never builds momentum, especially given his frequently vocalised doubts over the performance. And he umms and aahs around his set-ups with no sense of urgency.

It all feels like a work in progress, yet this is the most prestigious comedy venue in the UK and tickets are almost £20 – more than most pro clubs, where you would see four much sharper comics. Without finding higher gear than this, Wardell is unlikely to be winning new fans to be the audience he wants for his next visit.

• Brandon Wardell is at Soho Theatre at 9pm every night until Saturday.

Review date: 11 May 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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