Thursday, August 26, 2010

Edinburgh Fringe 2010: John-Luke Roberts Distracts You From A Murder

[Original British Comedy Guide review here]

The main problem with reviewing John-Luke Roberts' impressive show ...Distracts You From A Murder is that you are constantly tempted to forego critical prose and instead simply quote reams of his one-liners verbatim. While that would undoubtedly make for entertaining reading, though, it wouldn't be especially fair on Roberts, who has clearly lovingly crafted and honed his quips to the distilled state in which they are performed, so (with one exception that I just can't resist) I shall try to keep this spoiler-free.

In ...Distracts You From A Murder Roberts has created for himself a lovely niche that brilliantly shows off his talent for clever one-liner comedy. The puns and word play - much of which takes a good few seconds for the audience to fully digest before laughing - comes in a torrent, but it is all framed within the 'storyline' of the show, which is the grizzly murder mentioned in the title. "It's not a whodunnit" he says, "it's more a whatdidhedo" - the answer to which only becomes clear in the last few minutes of the show.

As he establishes early on, a murderer's observational comedy lacks the universality necessary for its success, so instead Roberts spends much of the show insulting every single member of the audience, in order, using generic put-downs written down on a set of cards. What you get, then, is pot luck, and they are creative, generally very mild insults that range from the wildly convoluted to the pithily concise - my favourite, I think, has to be: "You laugh at adverts in the places they want you to laugh." Ouch. It is an ingenious vehicle for his comedy and while perhaps not every one garners an uproarious response, literally dozens are real winners that keep you giggling long after the show has ended.

Between the insults we also get a public health video, (slightly) longer jokes told from the comfort of an 'Anecdote Chair' and, of course, the murder itself. The calmly calculating character Roberts plays means that there is not much room left for banter or adlibbing here, and while that is understandable given the structure of the show, Roberts is such a confident and distinctive performer that it's also something of a shame. Luckily - for him and us - there will be many more Edinburghs for Roberts to try out different ways of showcasing his obvious talent; which is more than can be said for his poor victim.

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