A Shark Ate My Penis: A History of Boys Like Me | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review
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A Shark Ate My Penis: A History of Boys Like Me

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Laser Webber had one of the best show titles at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, inspired by Samuel Bundy, one of the first recorded trans men in UK history. Born Sarah Paul, he was outed by his London landlord in 1860 and, struggling to explain his lack of male genitalia, landed on: ‘I owe this to a shark in the West Indies.’

This is Webber’s story of realising his gender identity and how that acceptance made his life make so much sense. He likens his old life to having a pebble in his shoe, with forward progress much easier once he addressed the issue. 

Interspersed with musical compositions, A Shark Ate My Penis is an overwhelmingly earnest affair, more spoken word than comedy and presented without the giddy joy of Jordan Gray or acerbic defiance of Anna Piper Scott in their show about being trans women.

Webber was clearly never entirely happy in his skin, as a song from years back about ‘transitioning’ to a vampire inadvertently reveals. And when he came out as a lesbian at 17, that didn’t provide the resolution he needed. 

Until he came to the realisation that he was trans, his was a life of soul-searching, self-loathing and confusion that came to a head at an ex’s very queer wedding, where still he felt out of place. These feelings he sets to song, the mournful lament I Am A Woman telling how he was not at all happy about his assigned gender. It will surely speak to others in a similar situation. 

Although his ongoing story has a happy ending – despite increasing transphobia in some quarters forcing him to conclude ‘it sucks to be trans right now’ – his earlier sadness casts a pallor over much of the show, further emphasised by his underplayed, dry delivery.

His experiences are interspersed with interesting titbits about trans people in history, all taken from Jen Manion’s 2020 book Female Husbands. The record is inevitably incomplete, given that trans people tended to stay invisible, only becoming known when something went wrong, but there are some fascinating stories in the book.

We jump in and out of these tales via a hokum time machine, which Webber explains by saying trans people are effectively time travellers, recontextualising their past with their newfound knowledge of their gender.

Other interruptions come from tracks including James Howe Val Jean, a Les Mis-like number about an 18th Century publican in London, and the upbeat, more amusing song inspired by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, but intended for straight, cis people rather than a queer anthem. 

Edinburgh also forms a part of Webber’s story, not least allowing him to get in several jibes at JK Rowling’s views as she becomes a pantomime villain of the piece in surreal insets that further complicate the tone of a show that isn’t quite sure of its intent.

This is a heartfelt hour that will endear you to Webber, but with too little emphasis on making it entertaining or – crucially – funny.

Review date: 28 Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon Teviot

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