Emmanuel Sonubi: Emancipated | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Emmanuel Sonubi: Emancipated

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

As imposing as Edinburgh Castle, tall, hench and stern, Emmanuel Sonubi doesn’t look like a comedian – although he’s a good one – but does look like a bouncer – although he was a terrible one.

The gulf between his appearance and the reality of him as a gentle Disney-loving giant is at the centre of his opening get-to-know-me material. His physical presence and rich baritone voice help exude a useful gravitas on stage, but he persuades us that he’s a pussycat, really. 

That people might feel intimidated to encounter him in a dark alley is much to do with perceptions of his race as his size, of course. And while that’s one aspect of this assured best-newcomer-nominated debut, it’s a minor one, more concerned with calling out such fake PC nonsense as the claim ‘you can’t say blackboard any more’ than addressing big issues. He even has a mischievous suggestion of how H&M blundered into a race row with their advertising before asserting that learning from your mistakes is important, not the absence of making any.

Sonubi’s time as a doorman provides some his best material, offering a reverse perspective on the ridiculous ways drunk and underage punters would attempt to blag their way into the club; a cracking tale of a man who claimed he'd been assaulted; and stories of how he could quell trouble with a stare, even if he feared any physical confrontation.

He has a similar command of the audience here, taking the room from mirth to stillness when he speaks of a serious health scare while on tour in Dubai in 2019 – the sort of incident that makes you appreciate life a whole lot more. Early in the show, he flags up the fact that he’ll be deploying a tried-and-tested trick of using a bar stool when he wants to get profound, so provoking a laugh when he reaches for it at the crucial moments.

Some other hoary techniques are used less knowingly, such as asking for cheers from those who have, then haven’t, got children, only to comment on the relative enthusiasm. And routines reliving the indignity of a rectal exam or commenting on funny signs are the stuff of stand-up cliché too.

As well as presence, Sonubi has excellent timing – only bettered by a baby in the audience tonight who nailed their occasional interruptions. The comic wasn’t thrown and engaged with the newborn with the same charm as he treats the rest of the audience.

After all, he’s a relative new father himself, and knows full well how easy it is to be defeated by a toddler – or belittled by a primary school teaching assistant – further eroding any conceptions that his size makes him invincible. On stage, it helps – but he certainly has other skills and material to back it up, too.

Review date: 28 Aug 2022
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Underbelly Bristo Square

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