Jo Brand: Stand-up and in 'Mental', Edinburgh Festival

Play's the thing for a slick but jaded Brand
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The Independent Culture

At the Book Festival this week Alexei Sayle complained that today's comedians were too slick for him, too polished. Now even Jo Brand is polished, it seems, thanks to peddling what is ostensibly the same act for years.

If you asked audiences what words they would associate with her act, you would get the following responses: "cake, fat, women's bits". This holy trinity is still the mainstay of Brand's stage act, even after a long break from the circuit and giving birth to two children. All credit, perhaps, that her act is not littered with nappies and potties, although potty humour is still prevalent.

Brand made a good impression at the launch of the Assembly Rooms this year but under the spotlight of her own shows the languid ambivalence of the comedy she tosses out rankles. This attitude is manifest when Brand flicks her wrist in a casual "whatever" pose to punctuate her routines.

At the same launch, Brand warned us that her acting skills were not up to much: "Don't judge me on my acting, judge me on my dress or something.'' If this health warning was published on the tickets, audiences would be a lot more patient with Mental, the bio-play written with her fellow former psychiatric nurse and colleague, now performer, Helen Griffen (who is excellent).

The first few scenes (which are punctuated with needless fade-outs) feel like the pair recorded their lines in separate rooms. However, there are some well-paced, well-thought out set pieces. Of particular note is Winston, a former psychiatric patient who has an innovative approach to his new job as a postman and who - as a patient - once had a cunning plan to get free chips. What a contrast to the content of Brand's stand-up of jaded jokes with no new twist.

It is difficult to imagine the comedy scene without Jo Brand because she is part of the furniture, if a little worn. But fatigue has set in with her act and her audiences.