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.