Ralph Brown: My First Hostage Situation | Review from the Glasgow International Comedy Festival
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Ralph Brown: My First Hostage Situation

Review from the Glasgow International Comedy Festival

In any given year at the Edinburgh Fringe there are stories that escape the festival bubble and pierce the consciousness of the wider world, be that Jerry Sadowitz's cancellation for perceived offensiveness in 2022. Or the case of Georgie Grier, whose admission that she'd only had one audience member for her one-woman play went viral last year, with the subsequent support of prominent comics and media coverage helping her fill out her room and turn her fortunes around.

As Ralph Brown protests, he had a much more dramatic festival than Grier. And yet, for some reason, the Scots comic's show went under the radar. My First Hostage Situation is the tale of how a man walked into his hour at the Waverley Bar and pulled out a gun. But also how this failed to attract more than a smattering of media coverage.

Fringe buzz has unquestionably been built on far less. Brown's unheralded venue, lack of a publicist and inability to take a decent photo for his flyers were likely contributing factors to the general shrugging of shoulders. When Dave Chappelle was rushed by an attacker at the Netflix Is A Joke Festival, it prompted countless column inches on the safety of comics. Brown did only one interview about his experience and received no reviews.

The potential was certainly there. When a man noisily wanders into this performance three-quarters of the way through, everyone in the audience starts. Is this meta-theatre or history repeating itself? No, it's a random punter arriving much too early for the next show. But I can't have been alone in clocking that he was stood by the solitary exit in this basement venue ...

This is an early preview for what will undoubtedly become Brown's 2024 Fringe show. If he's still trying to find the best way to recount these crazy circumstances, it seems he's still processing his trauma somewhat, putting pressure on the crowd to laugh at the jokes. It's a psychologically potent cocktail but difficult to reach solid conclusions on, tricky to judge the tone and how light he wants to keep it. Generally, he settles on wry incredulity with occasional explosions of outright exasperation.

Without revealing too many of the details of the actual incident, there were striking similarities to the film King Of Comedy in that Brown's hostage-taker was a deluded, wannabe performer who grabbed his stage time with threatened violence.

Brown makes a reasonable stab at suggesting the event was some sort of karma for his hatred of magicians and jugglers. Among the rich ironies he uncovers is the fact that he's not even the first Scottish comedian associated with the Waverley to be caught up in a hostage incident. And it's wonderfully dark just how soon after the police apprehended the gunman that, the Scottish comedy community were cracking wise at his expense.

There's a big stumbling block, in that Brown reveals early on that his set was taped as always, leading one to assume that he's going to share some of the audio and being disappointed when he doesn't. And for a number of good reasons, his assailant isn't identified, so remains a vague antagonist, his mental health problems and love of magic notwithstanding.

As to the lack of press coverage, without much conviction Brown ventures that as this was a white man waving a gun in the face of another white man, so no one was particularly bothered. Perhaps corresponding with violent Scottish stereotypes as well, it's not framed in a culture war manner and is less convincing than the possibility that in the frenetic whirl of the Fringe, headlines were skimmed, real jeopardy was dismissed as a routine, even remaining a lingering doubt in the minds of audience present. For whatever reason, Brown didn't blow up virally as logic dictates he ought to have done.

Indeed, as a personal mea culpa as a journalist working at the festival at the time, I'd read the gunman report on Chortle, seen and enjoyed Brown's storytelling in a triple-hander show in 2021, but felt I had a decent handle on his stuff and was prioritising covering newer performers. For such banal reasons all sorts of shows, excellent and mediocre, get overlooked in the unwieldy mess of the Fringe.

Besides, the incident was so inexplicable that in its current recollection, it still raises too many questions to be narratively satisfying. Through another, childhood brush with death and general indifference, Brown explores the Bystander Effect. But only in passing and for the ridiculousness of its theme park setting, when the psychology of all involved perhaps needs to be more deeply teased out.

The fickle nature of celebrity and the general decline of arts coverage lends Brown's account a compelling edge, his resentment at being denied fame for extreme bad luck rather than artistic merit a twist, not least as he's a capable anecdotalist who probably deserves more of a spotlight anyway.

With time to be whipped into shape before this year's Edinburgh, My First Hostage Situation might yet secure Brown the attention he's been denied. Equally though, it would be grimly appropriate if he fails to go off with a bang once again.

Review date: 31 Mar 2024
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Glasgow Van Winkle West End

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