Edinburgh 98: Comedy - How to lose and laugh about it

JOHNNY VEGAS GILDED BALLOON
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BANG GO Johnny Vegas's chances of winning the Perrier. Again. Last year, it was the fault of the judges, who swam against the tsunami of popular opinion and threw the award away on the League of Gentlemen. This year, Vegas has only himself to blame. Already tired of being seen as a one-trick pony, in "Selling Out", he attempts to transfer his audience's affection from live pottery to joinery - and, with any luck, remind them who is the real star of the show.

"We've got to ditch the wheel," he confides, his husky Merseyside warble cracking with emotion, as though our lives depended on it. His motives are partly honourable, a two-fingered salute to the corporate demand for gimmickry ("When I make a teapot, I'll make it for a friend, not Mister Bloody Murdoch"), combined with a worry that perhaps pot-throwing was too elitist.

But Vegas also has a squinty eye on the detestable middle-class audience that success has brought him ("You're all homeowners, this is something you can do at home," he sneers). Either way, the result is disastrous: "We've got a half-arsed table and a shitty potter's wheel," is his final verdict, before he throws dignity to the wind and begs for the Perrier outright.

No one loses with more style than Johnny Vegas. Rage about the treatment he received last year is just a handle for the overflowing cup of bitterness that is his life. There are fewer belly laughs this time round, and hardly any of those tightly crafted showbiz metaphors. A savage anger keeps breaking through. It's as though our coming back for more has insulted Vegas with the suggestion that all those stories about a miserable upbringing redeemed by pottery were fabricated. "I'm still an entertainer, not a comedian. I still don't do jokes and I still don't do gags," he explains, wearing the same leather donkey jacket, wing-collar shirt and flares his bulk inhabited last time round.

The sheer lack of new material in "Selling Out", and the hilarious, desperate padding it prompts is another inspired move on the part of Michael Pennington, Vegas's creator. The more at a loss Vegas appears, the more he looks like becoming a comedy colossus.

'Selling Out' continues until 31 August (except Tuesdays) Bookings: 0131 226 2151

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