Set the octane to high and the bravura to eleven; no one starts a Fringe show like Nick Helm. Hail the "most beloved comedian of this, or any other generation", and the most glorious loser in comedy as his opening trailer broadcasts - a sequence that comes with an added irony today, the day of Helm's Comedy Award nomination.
Kickstarted by a time-honoured metal-style anthem ("I'm rising straight to the top/ You'll be begging me not to stop/ I'm the strongest cheese in the shop") this part-homage to Evel Knievel breaks down to a collection of constructs: throwaway poems and jokes and the bootcamp style manipulation of the audience.
Helm barks his way through all of the above, but sadly it's Groundhog Day for his efforts: once again no amount of noise can cover the hollow feel to a number of the show's sequences.
The Evel Knievel conceit seems adroit for Helm's exploration of vulnerability hidden by showmanship, but it is muted by a disco number, and by an anecdote about a dead cat which, even with a nimble callback, lacks claws.
Also mining the theme of flawed machismo is Best Newcomer nominee John Kearns whose Sight Gags for Perverts adopts a similar ragbag approach to comedy tropes, again with audience participation and a fair portion of pathos.
A dab hand at the non-sequitur his Dick Emery-esque persona quickly reaches for his "most indulgent" part of the show where he growls along to a funk track. Like Helm, he uses it to inject energy, but, in this case, also to provide a safety net for the subsequent anti-comedy and the poignant and poised silences that go with it.
It is still more punchlines than Pinter though. "You know I found out the other day that I am the same age as Usain Bolt" says Kearns, living up to his title with a ludicrous visual juxtaposition.
What unravels among of all this is the 'progress' of a socially awkward loner who, for example, finds it amusing to walk behind women and pretend they are a couple who have had a fight. Meanwhile, Kearns' befriending of various male audience members goes beyond banter into a near homoerotic sequence, before an all-male stage invasion and sing-song brings it round to being more about acceptance than bonding.
An intriguing debut; the follow-up will be worth watching out for.
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