James Acaster, Recognise, Pleasance Courtyard, review: 'Superficially scattershot but also tight as a drum'

Edinburgh Festival 2014: 'Deadpan to a tee throughout'

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The Independent Culture

Since his Edinburgh debut in 2011, James Acaster has taken the festival by stealth, bagging two Comedy award nominations while remaining determinedly low-key.

Part stoner student, part wannabe QI panellist, he’s a comic who eschews big issues for absurd disquisitions on the tiniest points of modern life.

It’s an acquired taste, though you can’t imagine many not acquiring it from this consummate hour. Early on, he hits us with quite the announcement: he is, in fact, an undercover cop. And with that disorientating premise established, all subsequent flights of fancy seem like fair game.

Deadpan to a tee throughout, he blends surreal set-pieces – Pythagoras as a neurotic catchphrase comic, a podcast formed from the repartee of a drugs ring – with observations as astute as they are trivial. Why, indeed, does a pair of oven gloves come with a connecting “germ blanket”? And what on earth are the 26 flavours that go into Dr Pepper?

If it’s a superficially scattershot show, it’s also as tight as a drum: more than ever, Acaster proves himself a superb set builder, with inspired callbacks, and a clever climax that reveals beneath all the silliness, the show might just have been more personal than he let on. Could it be third time lucky for him, awards-wise? You wouldn’t bet against it.