Gilded Balloon presents: The Leith Social

The Leith Arches
October 27th, 2022

In the Game of Thrones feeble analogy of the Edinburgh Fringe there are the three players.

Underbelly- southern nonces. Assembly Rooms- tweedy establishment yawn merchants, and the Gilded Balloon proper old school Cowgate rockers keeping it real.

Street proper barry and that ken word know and so on.

The Free Fringe would be Wildings if they were hard enough.

Gilded Balloon Headyin Karen Keating (surely some mistake. Ed.) knows a thing or two about comedy. The chief dragon of the Gilded Balloon has been entertaining punters and terrorising rivals since 1986. Herself, her daughter and team being responsible for the game changing gladiatorial and unfailingly fucking hilarious ‘Late ’n Live’, the stalwart ‘so you think you’re funny’ and many many more top end productions

In the currently under siege territory of Leith, the imaginatively named Leith Arches is a prime dynastic marriage. Underground, a bit boho but the bar and the toilets still work.

Here the Gilded Ballon return with the Leith Social.

Cabaret Comedy and Music it says here.

Paisleyite MC Jay Lafferty (no relation) stirs the crowd with some affable quick witted back and forth crowd interaction. Rousing the punters from the torpor resulting from having had (past continuous plu perfect.. nice. Ed.) solved the tetris puzzle that is getting to Leith at the moment.

First up Aussie Rae Rogan with some Gervais style bio based acerbically witty tales about the travails of being a lezzer. ‘If you are going to piss into a crisp bag. Take the crisps out first’

Next Mark Black regales us with properly funny anecdotes about his pals. Mixed with surreal meanderings and some Connelly style clowning. Topped with a great skit on drunk Glaswegians speaking algebra.

All the best comedy acts I saw during this years fringe were involved or wanted to be involved with Ru Pauls Blah Blah Blah. To the the extent that Outrageously this Glasgow born lad couldn’t get a football based joke in. Can I say that? (hell yeah. Ed.)

Topical toxic masculinity aside…

Thence commences the battle of the ‘taches.

Chris (Cliff) Thorburn goes for it with a prolonged Halloween based monologue upstaging his hirsutically infurrier in the moustache stakes but no less witty compatriot final act Cornwall’s Sam Lake, who follows with yet more Drag Race styled archly sharp comedy and an explanation of why he likes sex under exam conditions.

Zoe Graham

All wrapped up with the music of Zoe Graham on the guitar gong and electro vibes. Winner of the Best Acoustic Music gong at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards Proclaimers pal Ms. Graham is touring this winter. EP ‘Gradual Moves’ (Noise Artist) is out now hepcats, and she will be at Sneaky Pete’s this December 7th

Great venue Great acts Great night.

It’s the Gilded Balloon. They don’t fuck about

5 Stars or The Ballon D’or.

Adam McCully

Alex Farrow: Philosophy Machines

Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire
Aug 14-28 (20:15)

What is it like to be a comic?

Most of us will never know nor care considering they are in the main bat shit crazy.

Thriving or diving on the echolocatoray response of the vagaries of the crowds reaction. (the fuck? Ed.)

Should you wish to hear more pseudo philosophical waffling head to Alex Farrow’s Philosophy Machine at the Cabaret Voltaire. Not the best of all possible venues… ho ho.

If you didn’t get that this show is probably not for you.

Ostentatiously erudite (have you swallowed a thesaurus? Ed.) Farrow’s latest show deals with the integration of men women and machines, the telescopic time travelling transience of technology and…

(that’s enough Ed.).

Pretty entertaining.

I laughed therefore I was there.

Adam McCully

Rhys Nicholson – Rhys! Rhys! Rhys!

Underbelly, Bristo Square
Aug 24-28 (20:25)

Cue Taxi Driver soundtrack.

Monday…Last week of the festival… the days go on and on… … the nights are fair drawing in….one of these days a big rain is going to fall….

To the Udderbelly Trafaldamore Stage.

If you can sell out a 200+ venue on a wet Monday in the later days of the Edinburgh Festival. You must be ding something right. Ru Pauls Drag Race (Down Under) alumnus Rhys Johnstone is here to tell us why it is all about him.

‘Rhys! Rhys! Rhys!’

Having already worn out two pairs of loafers on the cobbles of Auld Reekie Mr Johnstone minces into his strides like a non binary Bowie with a ‘Disney villain level of Campness’.

This chap is a bit of a chap. Timeout Best Newcomer Sydney 2012 and garlanded at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and amongst others The Ru Paul thingmy. The set takes in gay marriage and all points in between Oz and Alice springs.

In 2016 Mr. Johnstone in an effort to highlight Antipodean uxorious inequity (really, ed.) married alleged lezzer Zoe Coombs Marr basically to tell the Aussie government to stick it up their Wooloomooloo.

They were both nominated for the Barry Award for Best Show.

Ms. Coombs won.

Which leads us onto the subject of ‘Gay divorce’, a rich seam.

It’s not all queen centred bitchiness

I don’t want to tar all of Newcastle with the same brush, but lets

Slick well delivered intelligent comedy.

Even the straight blokes won’t regret their

Sheelaghs dragging them along

Adam McCully

The Tragicomic Brilliance of Jeff Ahern’s Improvisational Satire, Sylus 2024!

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
Aug 23-27 (15:00)

For me, the Fringe, for all its achievements, is a kind of an unintentional ritualistic critique of capitalism. On an hourly basis throughout the festival, it’s not unusual to see some of the world’s best comedians and satirists – with perfectly finessed acts they have spent all year crafting, and with their life savings mercilessly gobbled up in exchange for a slot at the festival – performing their act in a squalid, miserable little room that wouldn’t look out of place in a crack den, and often in front of a five-pack of bemused Swedish tourists who were threatened with free tickets on their way to grab some lunch. The exchange rate very often feels off. But as noted in recent reviews, that’s what makes it also exciting. You never know what kind of jewels lie behind each door. Having bought my ticket an hour before the show, I’m delighted to have seen Jeff Ahern’s Sylus 2024!, which is in my opinion is not just the best show I saw this year at the Fringe, but the best show I’ve ever seen at the festival.

After my experience of witnessing great comics performing at the Fringe in what I can only describe as shacks with fairy lights, Ahern’s Sylus 2024! was luckily held in a neat little theatre, with U.S. election-styled bunting hanging over the tops of the stage. Unfortunately (for Ahern, not myself), when I saw the show, only six people had turned up that day to see his show. Regardless, nothing quite prepared me for the absolute majesty of the next 45 minutes.

Ahern, in a full American flag-styled suit, comes onstage as the evil Sylus Rothschild – the evilest man in the world – to announce his bid for the presidency. After being dazzled by his loud suit, the second thing you notice about Ahern is his incredibly quick wit and receptivity to the room. After announcing his presidential bid and handing out campaign badges to the five of us in the audience, he boasts that, with the six of us behind his campaign, he will be unstoppable. Seconds after realising he miscounted, a sixth audience member comes into the show, delivering Ahern another gem for his stump speech: “See, folks? I promised you six audience members and I delivered!” An early victory for Rothschild’s disturbing little campaign, and one impeccably delivered by Ahern.

In terms of structure, the show is primarily divided by two elements: Rothschild’s stump speech and his backstage conversations with an unfortunate looking puppet called “Nessie”, who acts as a mix of the candidate’s best (or maybe, only) friend and a senior campaign advisor for his bid for the presidency. Between portions of his barnstorming stump speech, Rothschild would depart from one side of the theatre, go behind the curtains, and then re-enter the stage on the other side with Nessie in hand – and the show would depict them collaborating their thoughts on how the speech and campaign is going. As the show progresses, his development of Rothschild’s cruel, warped stump speech, complemented by the exposition of his backstage conversations with Nessie, bursts with dizzying comic energy.

Between bouts of Nessie being hilarious as a bemused onlooker of Rothschild’s psychotic campaign (“You do realise you just admitted to murdering your father on live TV, right?”), he also functions as a voice of reason for the candidate. With Rothschild rushing ahead in the polls, Nessie prophetically reminds him throughout the show, “Don’t take any money from special interests.” Rothschild glibly reassures him, but his advisor’s warning hangs in the air as the candidate begins to smell victory ahead.

Jeff Ahern as “Sylus Rothschild” and his close friend, campaign advisor and voice of reason, “Nessie”. Source: Broadway World

The key motifs of Rothschild’s campaign and the overall show are delivered by the audience and promptly responded to by Ahern in a biting comic wit. In one portion of his act, he delivers a six-minute treatise on the “famous” tale of Winston Churchill and the chimpanzee, an absolutely dazzling waltz of improvisation borne initially from the candidate’s requests to the audience to provide a general historical figure and an example of a wild animal. As he dives into brilliantly wretched detail about a young and abused Winston Churchill who comes to embrace the primeval nature of himself through the wild beast, Rothschild routes back to his audience that he will likewise do the same in his campaign. He implores them: “Let me be your chimpanzee.”

Likewise, the campaign’s slogan is delivered by an initially hesitant audience member: “We Will Win.” The audience contributions subsequently resulted in numerous, brilliant moments. The major political scandal Rothschild has to endure is “crying in public”, followed by him choosing popstar Madonna as his vice-presidential candidate. And amid falling poll numbers, Rothschild resuscitates his campaign by declaring “a war on half-empty crisp packets”. The absurdity of these audience suggestions is handled astonishingly well by Ahern, and promptly peppered with brilliant moments of improvisation. And the structure of the show means it is difficult for this material to be recycled. It provides a different stump speech every day, a momentous achievement in itself. As I sat in the back of the show roaring with laughter, I couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious, and wished for more people to be at the show to delve alongside myself into Rothchild’s political fever dream. Certainly a show as rich as this deserves in my opinion a much, much bigger audience.


This review could very easily, and exclusively, chronicle Ahern’s straight political themes in the show, such as his artful toying with the artificial qualities of mainstream presidential rhetoric, but I think to do that would be a major dishonor to Sylus 2024! In my opinion, the emotional, and meaningful heart of the show functions as a narrative about a presidential candidate who falls short of his ideals, namely his hope to reform the sclerotic healthcare system in the United States. For all of his severe faults, there are glimpses of real humanity in the character of Rothschild.

However, this dream inevitably collides with the temptation – as Nessie forewarns – to open up his political campaign to an increasingly irresistible melody of special interest funding. As the show progresses, this funding spirals closer to Rothschild as his bid for the presidency takes him increasingly closer to the White House.

Ahern offers massive laughs through Sylus 2024!, but he offers more than that. Wielding audience suggestions within the tapestry of an improvised stump speech is not just impressive, but he does it with the delicacy and majesty of a seasoned political operative, and one keenly aware of the bolts and wheels of the format. Most contemporary audiences will be used to a presidential persona following into the Trumpian strongman archetype, but the show is far too clever to go for obvious targets. Instead, Rothschild seems more like a young city Democrat, and one hampered by his slippery moral compass and a desperately narrow path to the presidency polluted with the stench of establishment donors. The end result of this is that behind the comic ugliness of Rothschild’s character and the hilarity of his unending rhetorical vomit, lies an extraordinary crafted emotional narrative about a deranged but faintly decent and subsequently disillusioned political figure. In doing so, it offers up a kind of David Simon-on-ketamine mini epic on political language.

One thing I’ve found often sinks the efficacy of some satire is when it becomes either emotionally void or just detached altogether from the people it criticizes. In contrast, through the comic vehicle of Rothschild, there is a really strong emotional foundation that complements all the various cogs and wheels of the show, especially when the audience is invited to steer the show through their own exclusive suggestions. So as brilliantly ridiculous as Ahern’s show is – and believe me, it gets pretty far out there – what makes it stunning as a piece of improvisational satire is that it is incredibly layered. Sylus 2024! is awash with all kinds of insane, cartoonish references, but the complex portrait of Rothschild – in assistance with Nessie – ensures that the show had a real heart to it, and it was something that I thought worked beautifully while also being brilliantly, effortlessly funny.

While making sure to avoid spoilers, the finale of the show is held on the eve of the presidential election; with Rothschild and Nessie chatting away to each other, the votes begin to roll in across the states. Ahern delivers what I can only describe as a completely sobering conclusion to the character of Rothschild. Perhaps the best way to put it is that, for a 33-year old man who has watched a lot of really grim political and cultural content in my time, I found myself almost moved to tears by the final scene between Rothschild and his kind-hearted catastrophe of a puppet Nessie. The symbolism is painted in broad strokes here, but it’s beautifully delivered as a piece of theatrical performance. For me, the finale of the show delivers potentially the greatest, culminating testament to Ahern’s skills as a satirist. For a 45-minute show as tight as Sylus 2024!, you can’t help but pay tribute to that kind of emotional timbre.

For a satirist to operate on all of these different levels – an improvised, living breathing monster of a stump speech delivered within a corrupted but still somewhat well-meaning political personality, who is then delivering this through a deranged but subtly moral satire of American politics – was for me astounding to watch. And also hysterically funny, to the point that my jaw ached when the show ended. Ahern has delivered something truly incomparable and absolutely beautiful and uproariously funny through Sylus 2024!, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Jamie Nixon


Christy Coysh: Bangarang!

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Nip
21:40 (Aug 17-28)

The winner of last year’s Musical Comedy Awards is troubadouring thro Edinburgh as I type, planting his arthouse hedonism directly in the heart of the town at the Gilded Balloon Patterhoose. I was joining him for his debut solo hour at the Fringe (he was once here as part of sketch double-act Tracy’s Leaving Party with Kat Sadler), an event which felt something like going to a wedding buffet, so eclectic were the mind-morsels of musicality Christy serv’d up for us. Also joining us was Christy’s agent, Max Atrocity, played by Christy of course, which revealed a talent for character comedy which could well rise to more prominence in the future. But for 2022 its mainly songs & the comedic introductory interludes between them.

Christy can sing. Effortlessly, & beautifully. He can also play the keyboards with prominent proficiency, & is a loop-pedalling savant. He can also Dance, Hip-Hop, R&B & sing poignant tribute songs to a beloved beautiful bridge in his home of Wakefield in which I heard the ever-lingering lyric, ‘ I even fucked a hole in the ground – I love you Wakefield.’

Sometimes silly, sometimes quasi-serious, the absolute highlight was Christy’s improvisational skills. I’d gone to see Samantha Presdee’s show earlier on that day, I enjoy her vibes & watching her develop as a performer over the years, in which she rattles on about her ex husband in Greece. Anyway, she’s on the verge of 40 & when Christy asked for themes & stuff to bounce off, she gave him plied him with the essence of her show & he converted it all into something joyous – real top notch improv. “That’s the spirit of the Fringe right there,” I told Sam, & she agreed with a wholehearted smile.

Another example of his swift & witty mind is when during one of his frequent audience member Q&As, on hearing a lassie student worked on the Harry Potter tours in Edinburgh, on hearing she was from the Slytherin house, he went ‘I knew there was a Slytherin’ in the house – I’m Hufflepuff, & I can always smell Slytherin.” Pretty sharp sh!t that, mate.

The show finishes on definitely the craziest finale I have ever seen at the Fringe which leads to a natural standing ovation. Like any debut hour, however, performers are lucky to maintain the magic for so long, & a couple of tunes towards the end lacked the same impact as the earlier ones, but this wonderful young man from Wakefield has heaps of deeper potential, & it will be interesting to see whatever next pours out of his ever-pregnant psyche.


Lew Fitz – Soft Lad

Gilded Balloon Teviot – Turret
Aug 23 – 29th (19:00)

Performing his solo comedy show at the Gilded Balloon Teviot Turret for seven days at Edinburgh Fringe is Moss Side, Manchester born lad Lewis Fitz. A profound young man takes to his stage and owns it with impactable energy. Like a light bulb being switched on for the first time, he blinds his audience with immediate laughter. Lewis knows his stuff and has his audience hooked like a salmon on a fishing line. Interaction with his eagerly awaiting crowd was tenfold. If comedy was used as a therapy, then Lewis is the cure. This comedy show is a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point classic laugh a minute journey through childhood and beyond. With twists and turns, gags and giggles Lewis is not a soft speaking lad and delivers his lines with venom. Countless laughs continue to roll through the room as his interaction with the audience ignites a flame of heart-warming memories of times past. Lockdown ? What Lockdown?

This is a comedy powerhouse. Touching yet empowering, the pains and strains of growing up are a key factors within this high octane show. Upbringing, childhood, University, ash urns, uncle Bob politics, change, bacon candles, train strikes, internet, working class hero’s and life’s little precious moments are all-inclusive. With no quarter given there is a laugh and chuckle at every joke thrown at the already hysterical crowd. Hilarious and quirky video clips are a great addition to this fast-paced joy ride of a show. Delivered with accurate timing and flowing like a river this well written comedy is funny until the last minute is upon us. This young and upcoming comedian will be a sure hit in the future so there is no time to waste. Grab a ticket and check him out !!


Depression, Swans and Pisser Problems: The Comic Triumph of Gary Little’s “Just About Done”

Photo by Jim Dean

Beehive 2 – The Attic
August 18th – 29th (5:45pm)

Gary Little continues to impress as a performer, and his latest show at the Fringe is no exception. In my opinion, there are a mere handful of Scottish comedians who are as naturally funny as Little, and I always make an effort to make it to his shows at the Fringe. I’ve been a huge fan of his stand-up for years, and have also enjoyed his side projects on Youtube such as “The Glasgow Trip” with fellow comedian Des McLean, a charming wee take off from the BBC’s own comedy programme “The Trip” with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan.

Little’s material for the most part is largely observational, and the material in his new special grounds itself in anecdotes such as his difficulties booking a doctor’s appointment for “his pisser problem” and his attempts to get past a nosey receptionist, a fantastic opening bit for his hour special that really launches the show. This later segues into hilarious stories about burying his friend’s ashes in a lake and encountering a group of hungry swans, dealing with his mate moving into his flat with him, and navigating the absurdities of sex and relationships, before finishing with a raw exploration of his own dealings with depression and death. There were times during his act that tears were streaming down my face from the absurdity and delivery of his stories. Aside from absolutely hilarious, there is something about Little’s ability to craft and weave an audience through his stories that is really significant. His comic timing is impeccable, and he is constantly able to balance his stories with the right amount of comedic detail in his set-ups, punchlines and tags. You end up finishing watching his stand-up wanting a little more, and in a really good way.

As indicated by his special’s name, Little seems to be making peace with a new chapter in his comedy career. Certainly as a long-time admirer of his work, I found this special to be more honest with himself and what he perhaps expects his audiences to appreciate. In the third act of his show, he delves into his struggles with depression, and how he balanced his life in the face of his father’s cancer diagnosis. This portion is still peppered with big laughs however, particularly in how he angrily cuts through the meaningless platitudes offered to him by friends and family in the face of despair. In small instances when Little delivered this specific material, I could feel some of his audience tapering off slightly, but to hold this against him would be unfair, and I don’t think it is a broader expression of any significant weaknesses in this material rather than a need to potentially tighten some of the junctures within this specific portion of his act.

However, as we travelled through Little’s struggles with depression, he delivered a very funny and utterly triumphant conclusion to his show. As many of his fans know, one of his most famous stories as a stand-up is when, in a bid to impress a bunch of young lads out for a night in the town, he takes a bunch of ecstasy and dances like a man possessed at the Arches, a famous (now terminated) Glasgow dance club. It’s easily one of the best pieces of Little’s comedic cache, and one that went viral online.

However, in his latest special, he revives his dancing skills once again, but in a more sobering, rawer conclusion to his own fight with depression. In doing so, Little’s latest piece both pays homage to a comedic bit that helped make him famous, but nonetheless remixes it into a more reflective and developed concoction. It isn’t just incredibly hilarious; it’s honest, and beautiful, and utterly, utterly triumphant in its portrayal of a man conquering the worst of his depression. As a long-time fan, I found it really endearing that he finished his show with this piece, as it was a really sweet and optimistic conclusion to a brilliant hour.

Little’s stories never feel overworked or clichéd; instead, they feel like real celebrations of Glaswegian humour and all that comes with it. And that’s no small feat. I’ve seen hundreds of comics latch onto what they think Glaswegian comedy is all about, and have failed miserably. The idea of Glasgow being a comedian’s graveyard is exaggerated, certainly, but the reason why it is important as a cultural barometer is it reminds of us the qualities that are truly celebrated in Glaswegian humour, and why so many comics fail to meet that bar.

The city’s humour is associated with a guttural, brutal honesty about ourselves or life; an ability to laugh at oneself, and at the absurdity of taking ourselves too seriously; and not being averse to really confront who we are on a corporeal level, an element often delivered in graphic, hilarious detail by Glasgow comics. Glaswegian humour, when done correctly, is in a sense an association, no, a celebration of Scottish life with no airs or pretenses about itself, a kind of celebration of realizing that as a people, we’re a little bit shit, but we’re also really decent at heart, and that good times still lie ahead for this country. Amid it all, there is an optimistic arc in there. Little, like Scott Agnew, or African American comic legend Richard Pryor, delivers that recipe beautifully, and provides a raw, emotional and really beautiful testament to the power of stand-up comedy as a form of social and cultural healing, a kind of comedic chicken soup for the soul.

Little is one of a handful of comedians I think has an incredible, unique ability to create something extremely masterful through comic performance. His latest special left me reeling, not just from laughing so hard, but in proving – once again – his ability to convey and craft a raw, hilarious and emotionally poignant hour-long special with an effortlessness I have rarely seen in stand-up comedy. For me, his latest special once again confirms his uniqueness as a stand-up, and roots him firmly as one of the greatest comedians of modern-day Scotland. I can’t wait to see him again.

Jamie Nixon

Zach Zucker: Spectacular Industry Showcase

Monkey Barrel Comedy – Monkey Barrel 4
Aug 23-28 (19:50)

For my penultimate show of this year’s Fringe I thought I’d check out the Stamptown emperor himself, stripping his comedy circus down to an audience with just him – & the brilliant Lucas Tamaran from Thumpasaurus on keyboards, who could recreate the sounds & virtuosic playing of just about any instrument you can think of. Before the gig there was a bing-bang-bosh musical build-up & the atmosphere felt more like that of a football match, as the largely 30 year old audience were readying themselves for the tempest. Then, within seconds of Zach trumpeting onto the stage, I’d coined a new adjective – Elvisesquean. Beautiful to look at it, beautiful to immerse in, Zach Zucker is a true showman & could well be in a Hollywood movie, & perhaps should, which just happens to be the loose thread that ties his hour together. Zach’s ‘Spectacular Industry Showcase’ unfurls like the sails of brigantine; a sequence of characters, sketches, & audience participation – or should I really say integration -, old skool visual gags & cheeky little ninja tunes, all of which cornucopia presents the audience with no choice but to laugh heartily & trip off on the wow factor.

This is what the industry does, they plague you with the worst crowd in the festival

Zach is a consummate clown, his mastery of the techniques are subtle yet significant & converts his set from the strong to the sublime. He has actually turn’d a light-hanging flopsave into a major theme of his routine. His face is also of the top-grade clown archetype, we see him vulnerably letting people in with a doggerel plethora of mouth shapes & eyebrow shuffles. Blended together, we observe all the factors & trainings & inspirations which meld a master comedian together, & Zach can confidently hold his head most proudly among his performing peers.

Is there a chiropractor in here, my back hurts from carrying this entire festival

As he pommels his way thro a Lamborghini hour of scripted spontaneity, Zach transforms himself into some very amenable, entertaining fellows –  the rapper, Little Penis Johnstone, & the Casanova, Antonio Bologna (Tony Baloney) were two of the best. His talent towers over the room with him even declaring he’s 12 foot 4 on a ladder in heels, which is about the right height for him as opposed to the mere mortals in the audience who can only sit back & wonder at (a) what the fu£k is going on & (b) why is it so fu£king cool.


Tony Law: A Now Begin in Again

Monkey Barrel 3
Blair Street.
Aug 22-28 (12:00)

Tony Law is a man unstuck in time

The word genius gets banished about all too often.

so thats that.

Happily Tony Law is a lunatic

Kevin Bridges wrote a book during lockdown to occupy the comedians ‘100 mile an hour brain’

A fiesta can do 100MPH pal.

Adopted Son of Ulster Canadian free thinker Tony Law ain’t no fiesta.

He’s a flat out colours to the mast you won’t take me alive DMT on the chips nut job.

This show is like hitching a ride with a West Belfast joyrider in a Sierra Cozzy he has nicked off the local provo commander.

Hard to describe with out resorting to frilly reptiles, Venn diagrams and stream of consciousness absurdist flights of fancy.

There is Method in his Madness.

The man just lifts off like a falcon with a rocket up its arse.

Shergar, all I’m saying.

Didn’t know whether to laugh or stage an intervention

Get on down to Tone Town

Adam McCully

Lauren Pattison: It Is What It Is

Monkey Barrel 1
Aug 22-28 (12:30)

When I was watching Lauren Pattinson’s perform her latest show, “It Is What It Is”, you realise very, very quickly that it is hard to dislike her. She is effortlessly likeable in a way that I think is hard to pull off disingenuously onstage. And the second thing that comes to mind is how seemingly honest she is in discussing her own struggles with anxiety and her mental health, and it is this topic that her act centers around, and how she continues to manage it in her adult life.

For instance, she notes that her struggles to manage relationships or transitions in her career are rooted in the expectations she felt as a child to always exceed, to be, as she puts it, “the perfect kid”. While discussing this, she hits some real high notes with it; in one particular point, she notes that, due to her anxiety, she would be refraining from making eye contact with anyone in the audience throughout the show, which produced a major, early laugh from the audience.

Her people-pleasing characteristics develop one of the better stories in her show, where, while on holiday with her girlfriends, she agrees to go to a water park while not letting them know she can’t actually swim. This leads into a hilarious climax, and a great testimony on the irrationality of these patterns of thinking that so many of us struggle with. In terms of the venue, The Monkey Barrel also deserves some credit for the stage-focused layout of the room, which, as any comedian can tell you, is very easy to mess up and provide distractions for the audience or comic when managed poorly.

A major strength of the special comes with her discussion of when the Covid-19 pandemic began and how this derailed her comedy career, as well as how she coped with her boyfriend breaking up with her and having to move back in with her parents in Newcastle. As Pattinson develops the rest of her act from this pitfall in her life, she makes some brilliant reflections on the issues of a contemporary stand-up comedy scene so dominated by the middle class.

As a working class woman from Newcastle, she reminds the audience – including myself – of the fact that she is an anomaly in the British stand-up scene, but she does so in a way that isn’t overplayed or self-serving. This is brought home in her critique of what she felt was an inherent snobbery among fellow stand-up comedians, who, during the pandemic, lamented the end of their steady salaries as comedians, but didn’t think for one moment to go out and just get a service or office job to sustain themselves until things returned to normal as they felt this kind of work was beneath them. In contrast, Pattinson talks at length about working in Asda during the pandemic, and the joys of struggling to remember the names of everyday vegetables and having to serve her old school bully at the checkout.

I found this material really refreshing, as it was great to hear a distinct take on the pandemic, and especially how Pattinson developed how getting back into the service industry provided an indirect way to challenge and improve her mental health. And before she delivered her commentary on these snobby tendencies within the stand-up circuit, Pattinson made it clear she was a little hesitant to discuss this, but I’m glad she did. Doing so made her show all the better for it, and really helped the audience connect with her as an honest, hard-working and funny young comedian while delivering a meaningful, contrasting example of life during the pandemic. For me, this was a definite highlight of her show, and I hope she leans into it more in future shows. She finished her show by discussing her pride in her working-class background, and I think it was a really great way to end a show that was principally based on self-innovation, empowerment and transformation.

When I describe how likeable Pattinson is, I think it’s worth clarifying something. I think a lot of comics instantly hate the idea of being “likeable” or “nice”, as it seems to suggest that their material isn’t up to scratch. That’s not what I’m suggesting with Pattinson. She delivered a great set, and from the audience’s reaction, she has built up a large and loyal fanbase. However, there were definitely moments when I felt she could have delivered certain punchlines a little more effectively, or feathered them a little better with more robust set-ups. Also, I think at certain points the speed at which she delivered certain jokes undersold a lot of the rich material she was working with.

So among a lot of strengths (mentioned above), that would be my only honest critical feedback. But I will finish by emphasizing this: there are a million comics out there who could use plenty of constructive advice to refine their work, but only a handful that most professionals within the entertainment industry would be willing to reach out to and help. Pattinson definitely falls into the latter category, which is a serious credit to her approachability and work ethic as a comedian. With her skill-set and honest approach to working through major obstacles in her life- whether it’s a breakup, a pandemic, or her comedy- I would put money on Pattinson continuing to make significant progress as a comedian while holding onto her major strengths as a performer.

Jamie Nixon