Patrick Susmilch: Texts from My Dead Friends | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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Patrick Susmilch: Texts from My Dead Friends

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Patrick Susmilch is undoubtedly tapping into something poignant when evoking the modern phenomenon of our digital devices retaining correspondence from loved ones who've died. Who hasn't kept such a person in the contacts book of their phone, with the feeling that we're somehow keeping them alive? Well, the American has gone one further and commemorated seven friends and their text messages in this debut Fringe hour. And the results are ill-conceived at best.

Spanning the 16 years of their comedy career, Susmilch illustrates their tale with a PowerPoint presentation that's dominated by text exchanges. And it's a truly strange, rather invasive feeling to be suddenly thrust into the role of witness to a stranger's private thughts, yet know instinctively that they're probably going to be dead in ten minutes.

Susmilch comes close to describing themselves as cursed at one point. But one thing's for sure – like the red-uniformed supporting characters in a Star Trek away team, featuring in this show is virtually a guarantee that you're soon-to-be deceased. If not, Susmilch complicated the friendship by developing romantic feelings for you. And sometimes you're both. Spoiler alerts are redundant.

The unfortunate seven are dominated by comedians, partly a reflection on the mental health, lifestyle and addiction issues bound up with the vocation. But also, more prosaically, the networking necessary. In the life lottery of cancer and other such diseases, the more people you know, the more likely you are to be touched by such tragedy.

The stand-up Raghav Mehta is Susmilch's closest confidant throughout, a fellow traveller through the ups and downs of being a jobbing comic and a ready sympathiser during Susmilch's bleakest episodes and bereavements.  Incrementally, you build up a simultaneous affection for and cautionary distance from this nice guy.

More frustrating, but more typical, is the case of Harris Lee Wittels, whom Wikipedia informs me was a writer for The Sarah Silverman Program and coined the term 'humblebrag'. You don't get that from this show though, as Susmilch simply hastily introduces him as an acquaintance and recovering addict whom they saw perform the night before succumbing to an overdose. Not for the last time, you're left wondering the extent to which Texts From My Dead Friends is less a tribute and, more, horrible though it is to suggest, ego-driven exercise in self-pity.

The hardest hitting death inevitably pertains to one of the youngest people featured, Maria, a paramedic who seemed like a selfless soul and who died during an accident in the line of duty. The commemoration of her by her colleagues is a suitably reverent and impressive affair. And you can't blame Susmilch from liberally appropriating the footage in homage to a vivacious young woman who shines through her texts.

Tonally though, the narrative's all over the place, as elsewhere Susmilch is blackballed for trying to out a predatory comedian and struggles to sustain a relationship with their less-than-empathetic father.

There are highs, as when they share a bill with Maria Bamford and appear on Last Comic Standing. But inevitably they're inflected with negativity, as the TV spot sends Susmilch into a spiral of depression.

Most of all though, Texts From My Dead Friends is just a colossal downer, the few sparks of ironic joy and humanity that Susmilch wrests from the retelling not coming close to justifying it as entertainment.

Review date: 19 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Just the Tonic at The Mash House

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