Paul Black: Nostalgia | Glasgow International Comedy Festival review
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Paul Black: Nostalgia

Glasgow International Comedy Festival review

With his cheek mic, casual self-deprecation and love of Lady Gaga, Paul Black is an unlikely spiritual successor to Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks.

Like the southern firebrands however, the Glaswegian viral sensation was raised in the tradition of a devout, US-style church, the son of a preacher man no less. And he forged his nascent performance skills playing to Christian congregations across Scotland with his father and older brother.

There's no doubting that the chubby cherub was the star of the show, at least in his own estimation, initially edging out his sibling, then his parent to become the main attraction, until a rival child started stealing his spotlight. That he was delivering his father's deluded, optimistic plea for fraternity, set against the backdrop of Glasgow's sectarian football hatred, only makes it funnier.

Opening with something of a cliché - a pre-recorded video of him supposedly on his way to the theatre - feels a bit beneath someone who's mastered TikTok, with Black's clips having amassed more than half a billion views.

Referring to Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland's First Minister also means that his introduction's already out of date, though it's unlikely he'll have to reshoot it for the rest of his debut tour. The ill-informed, conspiracy theorist taxi driver is a stereotype for a reason. And Black plays both roles in their dialogue with aplomb, receiving his chauffeur's deluded ramblings with a stretched smile of incredulity in an amusing, tightly edited back-and-forth.

Thereafter though, he's live in the room and a more natural, relaxed raconteur you couldn't hope to encounter, ditching the sketches and characters that made his name for personal stories. He capably conveys the uncertainty and insecurity he experienced as a 12-year-old realising he was gay and trying to mask it at school. Compellingly, he argues that this forced him to confront feelings and develop empathy in a manner his peers wouldn't attempt for the better part of a decade, and only then with the assistance of drugs.

With a strong sense of himself, Black maintains that he doesn't care about the future, though this partly seems like a spoof of a feckless, nihilistic millennial, partly a facilitation of his retrospective theme. Playing the venerable King's Theatre, he admits to having developed a precocious cynicism, dismissive of the supposed wonder attached to the many pantomimes he saw there as a child. And he self-defines as a 'hater', his routine pleasantries with a coffee shop barista eliciting far too much information, establishing Black in opposition to the basic Coldplay fandom he snarkily dismisses.

Indeed, written down, quite a few of his routines might come across as snippy or even snide, not least when he confesses to cyber-stalking a school nemesis, waspishly questioning her suitability for her new profession.

Yet in the flesh, his charm and vulnerability smooth the wicked edges, as he confesses to body images issues and unsettling his mother by mirroring her diet plans. Some of the consequences of his youthful, yo-yoing weight feel excessively contrived – him strutting his sometime svelteness at Blair Drummond Safari Park for all to see is patently embellished, a chance for him to preen and pout onstage like he's on a Paris catwalk.

But when he talks about Glasgow's infamous juvenile underclass, the Ned or ‘non-educated delinquent’, it's with real, sepia-tinted affection for these declining, disappearing terrors, even as he recounts his own encounter with a particularly threatening pack. Not for him punching down at the caricature, as he acknowledges their evolution and admits to being outwitted as much as intimidated by the ringleader.

Black is particularly attuned to class, both the signifiers and the consequences of it, and he hilariously sniffs out privilege in his acquaintances with the zeal of a witchfinder general. Painting a vivid, sunburned tableaux of his first holiday to Benidorm, he's affectionate toward blokeish Brits abroad rather than embarrassed by their excess. And though he subsequently swears to seek out more culture on his travels, a recent trip to Morocco forces him to accept his pretentious self-deception, that he's not as far beyond his compatriots as perhaps he thought.

With his solid, working-class background, easy, storytelling skill and eye for a retro culture reference that resonates universally, certainly with a Glasgow crowd anyway, 26-year-old Black recalls the young Kevin Bridges.

Yet while Bridges – until his recent, resurgent return – began to seem stuck in tales from his adolescence, his anecdote bank running shallower thanks to him becoming a successful comic so young, Black appears less encumbered by his nostalgic theme.

True, his first two stand-up shows have predominantly looked inwards and backwards at where he's come from. But that also feels like a creative choice and one he can move beyond if he chooses. His tales of navigating dating apps feel current, while his class resentment appears to have plenty of fuel yet.

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Review date: 2 Apr 2023
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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