Monday, 11 August 2008

Fringe Review - Jason John Whitehead: The Joker, Belly Laugh at the Underbelly, 09/08/2008

Canadian comic Jason John Whitehead is so laid back there are points during his set you wonder if he's about to fall asleep. But his easy smile and stoner demeanour work well in his favour, because as an audience you find yourself almost willing him to succeed.

He has, sadly, been landed with one of the very worst venues in the Fringe. The Belly Laugh is essentially a long narrow tube, far too long to use end on so instead it has been rotated ninety degrees and is now simply ridiculously wide and shallow. Add to this the tendency towards front row avoidance in the average Fringe audience and the result is an audience scattered so widely it makes it difficult for the comic to address them all directly and results in his having to move the focus of his attention on a regular basis to keep everyone involved.

Whitehead has, in the past, wisely eschewed the Edinburgh propensity towards themed shows, preferring instead to simply range randomly through any subjects that take his fancy. But this year, after a decade in the comedy business, he has chosen instead to take a step back and look at what made him want to take up the comic lifestyle, and the choices he has had to make to maintain it. Or, to put it in his own rather more simple way, it's a show about being a comedian.

Whitehead takes us from his early years at a dolphinarium in South Carolina, to his arrival in Edinburgh ten years earlier and his search for a job to fund his stand-up fixation, an end only achieved when he ceased trying, and through some of the drink and drug excesses of his years since.

All of this is narrated in an easy, unhurried and non-threatening way, and most of it is very entertaining, but there is never really a wow factor with Whitehead. He never seems to hit that killer punchline that has you doubled up in your seat or draws a spontaneous round of applause. And maybe it's the fault of the room, but in the end, he is something like the old comedy cliche of the Chinese meal, he leaves you vaguely satisfied, but in half an hour you'll be wanting something more.

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