Lucas O'Neil: Emotional Man | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Lucas O'Neil: Emotional Man

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

This feels like the year that American comedy has fully embraced the British-style solo show, with themes, messages and storytelling as important as the jokes – sometimes more so.

Lucas O’Neil’s debut is a relatively simplistic manifestation of this, his version of the much-maligned ‘dead dad’ shows that proliferated a decade or so ago, although in this case it’s the grief over his mother’s death that he’s processing on stage.

He knows the tenets of the genre he’s working in, amusingly defining a one-man show as ‘stand-up that thinks too highly of itself’ - a point he instantly, possibly inadvertently proves with his opening jokes. The obligatory self-deprecating gags about his appearance are prefaced with: ‘So this is what I look like. It’s very important what I look like.’ Important, see, not just a dumb punchline.

It sometimes feels as if O’Neil is trying a bit too hard to fit the template, with allegories involving sunflowers, earnest musings about how grief is a manifestation of love and even ticking the mental health box by talking briefly about his OCD, which plays almost no part in the narrative.

Yet he is an engaging, if relatively low-energy, storyteller. He comes across as a fragile, unthreatening, honest guy in understated control of his material. The pace is constant and restrained, with punchlines allowed to slip out without fanfare, allowing their wit to speak for itself.

The comic admits to a sheltered, affluent upbringing in an Irish Catholic family in Maine, with an older sister, a mum who always championed him and a dad who withheld his emotions, as dads are prone to do. He paints an intimate picture of family life, including its fault lines, and their attempts to rally after his mum died in 2019. Especially noteworthy are comic’s attempts to forge a new connection with his father, which is awkward and unresolved, but a step in the right direction.

Yet there’s some superfluous material too, such as his grandmother’s death, which covers similar territory, and the occasional bit of uninspiring philosophising. ‘We’re on our phones so much,’ he observes, as if insightfully. ‘But I think they make us sad.’

This hour will also make you a bit sad, while holding you rapt in the story and laughing at the wry punchlines that pepper the narrative. But as a show, it doesn’t seem as profound as it has ambitions to be. That ‘stand-up that thinks too highly of itself’ line proves a little too prophetic.

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Review date: 14 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Just The Tonic at The Caves

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