Al Lubel: Talks About His Name for Fifty-Six Minutes and About Something Else for Four Minutes | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Al Lubel: Talks About His Name for Fifty-Six Minutes and About Something Else for Four Minutes

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

The singular experience of an Al Lubel show, in which every routine is a reflection on his name, is only intensified when you’re the sole member of the audience.

It’s a crying shame that this ferociously inventive, surreally distinct and pigheaded performer is no longer getting the crowds he did when he first appeared at the Fringe in 2013, the novelty of the American’s act having paled since.

But so mind-bending and attritional is the experience of hearing the words’ Al Lubel’ for almost 60 minutes in various combinations and scenarios that I can’t say for certain how much of this show was new and how much was familiar refrain. Time started to lose all meaning, my own sense of self becoming absorbed into Lubel’s seemingly instinctive navel gaze.

What I can say is that I genuinely felt a privilege in getting the one-to-one experience. Having mutually agreed that we’d proceed, but with me still in the guise of regular audience member, I’d forsaken my notepad, lest it disrupt the show.

However, when Lubel began by explaining that he’d pulled a performance at the start of his run because the audience of two were both reviewers, it was time for full disclosure that I, too, was a journalist. And with him seemingly tickled by the perverse ridiculousness of the situation, we carried on. But I got to scribble away.

Licking his lips, rolling his tongue, the mellifluous quality of ‘Al Lubel’ is certainly something that Al Lubel appreciates. But from the first he sets up the idea of a gap between his stage persona and the ‘real’ Al Lubel, a distance that rarely expands too wide and narrows to an almost imperceptible degree at times.

Though fully present in the room, asking questions and taking on board or adapting responses depending on the audience’s (well, my) take, Al Lubel also expands his universe to make Al Lubel seem omnipresent and inevitable, going back to the formation of his act and even his childhood, his overbearing Jewish mother being (by some distance of lesser degree) the only other recurring character in his tale.

There’s a suggestion that Al Lubel was forged in adversity. An audience member in Cork pleaded with him to just stop, the specificity of the locale affording a glimpse of some alternative reality where Al Lubel is not the alpha and omega. But he also recalls a ‘tell us a joke!’ heckle he received in a New York club, to which he offered a variation on the man walking into a bar gag – that man being Al Lubel.

Expanding into a Being John Malkovich-style nightmare, where every subsequent character is also Al Lubel, it’s the launchpad for a series of metaphysical digressions on the nature of selfhood, pursued with obstinate obsession but with a hugely appealing grasp of ambition to see just how far he can take the narcissism.

An encounter with Robert De Niro is remarkable, the actor’s presence almost rendering Al Lubel starstruck until he recovers and reverts to type. The idea that there could be other Al Lubels out there is a dilemma he grapples with, ultimately pledging to preserve his uniqueness with recourse to Dexter-style extremes of calculated violence, the pointless end justifying the absurd means Indeed, so full-on is his self-obsession that he foresees Bill Burr stealing his act, and horror, making it successful, with all the logical fallout that would entail.

More so than subverting speech and syntax, Al Lubel plays with tension and release, masterfully manipulating the (limited) energy in the room with periodic set-pieces of movement, audience interaction, songs and even singalongs, featuring his idiosyncratic versions of Frank Sinatra and Leonard Cohen standards.

As his own muse, Al Lubel gives you the impression that with the latter sections of the show in particular, he’s simply slotting in routines on a whim, plucking them from the ragbag repertoire spanning and sustaining his unique career.

It’s a mad, ludicrous enterprise with real aspirations to art and profundity, far more entertaining than such an apparent commercial failure has any right to be.

• Al Lubel: Talks About His Name for Fifty-Six Minutes and About Something Else for Four Minutes is on at Laughing Horse @ The Counting House at 5.30pm.

Review date: 23 Aug 2022
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Laughing Horse @ The Counting House

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