Material: Delivery: Laughs: Room:
The first Monday of the last week of The Fringe is an odd time. As I zoomed up to The Stand, the streets were significantly less packed than in the last 2 ½ weeks and there was a distinct lack of queues outside of venues. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a hodgepodge of demographics filling a solid 40 seats when Steve N Allen took to the stage. He opened by commenting on the fact that he was no longer bothering to wear the suit jacket that had accompanied his first couple of weeks of the run, and at points there was a sense that Fringe exhaustion had started to make its way into his performance, as well as his wardrobe choices.
The theme of his show, we were informed, was that in a world where you need to have a knowledge of trade deals to feel justified in conversing on politics, there might just be a way to be ‘Better Than’ this current sociological attitude of extremes. This was covered via a stream of anecdotes ranging from making the mortal cultural error of ordering a ‘Full English’ in a Scottish café, to the unfortunate results on his waistline of stockpiling food for Brexit. If this sounds like a bit of a stretch, well, yes, it was. Steve moved relentlessly from topic to topic with barely a pause for jokes to land. An excellent riff on warning labels for nut allergy sufferers, on a jar of ‘3Nut Peanut Butter’, was spoiled by him leaping straight into a section about the unwritten rules of when to steal a seat in a coffee shop. This may have been because the audience were such a mixed crowd, and he was anticipating better laughs from other sections of his material. Certainly, when the audience laughed, as they did with enough regularity to keep things from ever feeling flat, he worked the material perfectly.
I get this mix of feelings where I wish I could live like this all the time; waking up writing comedy, doing gigs, plugging shows on the radio, enjoying the most intense version of the job, but I also realise I wouldn’t last a week into September and if I don’t get a solid two days of sleep when I get home I may never recover.
Read the full interview…
We were informed that one of his neat one-liners had made number 29 in The Telegraph’s 30 Best Jokes of The Fringe. It was when he went on extended, mildly obsessive, wonderings about individual topics that his material worked best though. His mathematical breakdown of group sex (complete with equations) was as good a piece of comedy as I have seen this year. I also found myself musing if I was the only person who had noticed he’d made the letters in the equation look like relevant body parts. A perfect combination of highbrow and lowbrow. When playing himself, characters from his home town of Mansfield, or ‘short people’ (Anyone under 6ft), his delivery was bang on, sending laughter bouncing out about the small room. However his ‘Better Than’ message became lost in a number of the sections, such as one 5-minute monologue in which he leapt from Big Data companies predicting your shopping habits, to eggs, Tesco Clubcards, Fat Prejudice, Airlines, and Body Mass Index. A lack of recaps, or pauses for the audience to digest where his train-of-thought was taking them, meant that a few of these flights of fancy became lost.
It was enlightening to have a slightly confused heckler in the room. Allen handled this wonderfully, to the degree that the guilty party, and his constantly shushing partner, ended up feeling like a welcome part of the act. While working the audience work, his formal delivery style slipped and ‘the real Steve N Allen’ took over, wonderfully confusing a West Lothian accent for Californian and mining a number of laughs and call-backs from each impromptu interaction. On the weight of most of his material, his confident improvising, and the response from the crowd at the end – which had him leaving the stage to applause that lasted after he had left the room – I’d heartily recommend him as a night-out for punters. Hopefully he’ll be performing with more care and energy to the end of his run, and hitting his stride again to finish The Fringe in top gear. Either that, or get the suit jacket back on.