Dave Coates

THE LIST

davecoatesDave Coates is one of those reviewers who, like a teacher at a long-established school, wants everyone to try their best. And he wants them to be cheerful about it.Jack Barry, for example, “seems self-aware enough that his mis-steps suggest a performer in the middle of a promising learning process”. Coates could have added “Will grow into a fine young man”.

Similarly when Nathan Caton “seemed to run a little haphazardly from one topical skit to the next,” it’s mitigated by the fact his show has a “moral compass”. Coates sees the Fringe as a big classroom where the untutored flock for guidance. He gives the sort of report-card advice (“He doesn’t seem confident of his material or entirely in control of his punchlines and the set meanders, making movement from one passage to the next difficult to follow”) that will be valuable in about two years when the comedian has stopped feeling resentful. But such an approach is perfectly positive.

To adopt Coates’s style, he is clearly a reviewer with a lot to give who will grow and develop as he hones his abilities.

Sadly, Coates lets the comedy school down a bit by continually sticking his oar in wherever his personal politics are challenged. His review of Charles Booth concludes that he is “a talented performer held back by tired and often hateful material.” Hateful is a strong word, and you’d hope to see it justified in the text. But all Coates records is that Booth did some stuff on Rachel Dolezal that he disagreed with.

Similarly Jack Barry is accused of making “unsavoury” gags about suicide, as if this speaks for itself. With Minor Delays he concludes that “Occasionally the bleaker moments come across as slightly mean-spirited,” but again we know nothing of these moments except that Coates found them too bleak. When he lists “numerous grim instances of homophobia, misogyny and cultural essentialism” he starts to sound like a prosecutor in a kangaroo court. And if you’re wondering what ‘cultural essentailism’ is, don’t bother looking it up. You’re not supposed to know what it means and that’s why some people use it. In that moment of not recognising the phrase you unconsciously acquiesce to Coates’ greater knowledge and moral patrimony. If you’re not careful you could be tricked into thinking that his desire to police the boundaries of comedy is perfectly reasonable. And worst of all you’ll be arming yourself with the phrase “cultural essentialism” so you can use it when you want to call people racist but haven’t got quite enough evidence on them yet.

If you regard some things as unsayable, fine. But Coates is a reviewer and I’m just not sure that he wants to feel uncomfortable, or even challenged, for even a moment. If the jokes were poor or the arguments behind them antiquated or illogical then he ought to tell us. But for goodness sake Coates, don’t just shudder and walk away like a dirty skulking reviewer.

That was journalistic essentialism, by the way. It’s a thing.

Edmund Rumania

 

Nick Awde

THE STAGE

nickawdeNick Awde has been around since gaslighting, writing about theatre and working on a string of large stage productions, some of them at the Fringe.

This pedigree may explain the aloofness with which he told Phil Ellis’s Funz and Gamez Tooz to fuck off:

“Guys, you got last year’s award because you were an in-joke for other comedians and the arty theatre circuit – and if you listen only to their plaudits, you’ll fall flat on your face like you’re doing here. You’re talented, you’re funny, you know your stuff and you’re northern – so sort it, work out what your audience is, come back next year (I can even tell you the best venue) and you’ll be guaranteed to clean up.”

Awde speaks with great conviction – arrogance, even – and you might even believe him. But with a little knowledge of stand-up you know how little success there is to be had in being an in-joke for other comedians (if anything it is the gold standard of broader failure). And you’ll know how little the stand-up circuit has to do with the “arty theatre circuit”, whatever that is and if it even exists (isn’t all theatre ‘arty’?). It’s odd, too, for Awde to be telling a sold-out show to work out what its audience is when its audience is standing all around him. And as for knowing the best venues, well – this doesn’t really need comment. He’s just being a dick for larks.

So there’s no point taking Awde’s swagger at face value. He’s just not taking it too seriously, which makes a nice change. In fact, we could probably do with more bolshy dickery in the review corps now that Copstick’s in her dotage. But with Paxman-like calling of bullshit one must have Paxman-like knowledge.

Awde wrote a report on the state of the free Fringe at the start of this year’s festivities. It’s a long piece which is, factually, about as reliable as a verbal agreement from Freestival. But again he speaks with such authority that you might well believe that the free Fringe thing was a protest, or a revolution, or that there is a fierce standoff between the paid Fringe and the free. You might not even question his breathless parroting of Fringe Society year-on-year growth figures, received by the rest of us in the same spirit as the Pyongyang Central News Agency telling us that North Korea has unicorns. But if you DO know about the Fringe, you soon realise that the Fringe Awde is talking about is going on in his head.

Oddly, the only other Fringe review we could find by Awde in The Stage this year (his reviews don’t show up under his name for some reason) was for Trash Test Dummies. This is written in the style of a puff piece for a provincial freesheet: “It is high-fives whizzing around the entire front row as this cheeky trio from Australia bounce on to kick off a show that looks at the funny side of trash”. It’s so bouncy and so unlike any kind of critique that it looks like he copied and pasted the PR guy’s email – except that in the middle it turns into a corporate strategy meeting: “The nonsense language for dialogue and setting up of contrasting characters delineates the mini-plots and elevates the humour to a truly universal level,” he says.

It’s not a major crime to be all opinion and no fact; goodness knows where journalism would be if that were the case. But a tiny bit of charm is required. It’s perfectly fair, for example, to point out that Funz and Games Tooz appeals to adults at the expense of their children, and that to do so “without these two levels of the show ever connecting makes as much sense as two dead sheep headbutting each other in a pool of lard: not much,” Good point, but he loses half the argument with the way he puts it. If you’re going to try a wry analogy in a humour critique. for fuck’s sake make it funny.

Edmund Rumania

Sarah Gough

BROADWAY BABY

sarahgoughI’m sure that, if I could get over the pony club tone to Sarah Gough’s reviews, I’d find her to be a perfectly adequate reviewer. So I’m going to say that she’s a perfectly adequate reviewer.

I’m sure the non-ironic and shameless use of the phrase “cheeky chappy” to describe Rhys Nicholson is annoying only to me, as is the conclusion “he’s gone from filth to fabric – how fabulous.” And I’m sure I’m the only reader who never had an uncle who went to Australia and then came back again, which is why I don’t immediately connect to Gough’s reference to “THAT uncle” when she’s lambasting Dan Willis for being just like THAT uncle. Also I shuddered a bit when she wrote of James Acaster “If you’ve nabbed tickets, lucky you”. But, like I said, that’s probably just me.

Similarly, I know a lot of people who like constant alliteration: “simultaneously sassy; Netflix niggles; mockingly masturbating”… Gough pairs words like this all the way through. I think a little of this goes a long way, whereas a lot of alliteration is a little like a lot of lemmings licking your loins: irritating. Or wonderful. It depends how you’re predisposed, but I’m not that keen.

On the whole, Gough’s reviews are quite fluid. If there is a review, anywhere, that adequately explains a James Acaster show to an ingénue then I haven’t seen one, and Gough’s attempt certainly isn’t it: “A stand-out moment is when Acaster narrates a fable he wishes to impart upon Lucas – the well-known fable of the goose and the sloth. The full extent of the comedian’s hilariously erratic brain comes to the fore and I salute you if you manage to get through it without crying.” I wasn’t sure if she meant crying with sadness or crying with laughter, but no matter: it’s a nice little taster. I also quite liked the description of Andrew Ryan: “This is a man with word diarrhoea. His constant babble is hilarious.”

Pretty much everyone Gough looks at is described as ‘self-deprecating’. This really is a hacky and meaningless term that I wish would die a dozen deaths (fuck it, it’s catching). Is there a single comedian whose schtick isn’t built on saying “ooh get me I’m a bit rubbish?”

Well, there’s Dan Willis. And although Gough beats Dan Willis to death, she does explain her unhappiness in some detail so it’s not an entirely senseless mugging. What’s much harder to excuse is the way she looks up at us halfway through the beating, sort of like how someone who has said something appalling might look at you for validation. “The Aussies’ approach to serving vinegar is mildly amusing for instance, as is the moment when he recalls being attacked. By his audience, you ask? Well, mostly magpies, but yes, also by an audience member…”

We’re not with you on this, Gough. You killed Mr Willis ALL BY YOURSELF.

Billy Coconuts

Dawn Kofie

BROADWAY BABY

dawnkofieThere is the occasional nice bit of phrasing in Dawn Kofie’s reviews. They occur when she is just saying what she sees. Stuff like “there’s a weirdly lyrical description of [Rob Delaney] taking a Peeping Tom role when his friend’s neighbour has an S&M party.” This, at least, makes me want to see Delaney’s show.  And “the inside of his cheek’s probably bruised from having his tongue pressed so firmly against it” is nice. But the problem with Kofie is that she says an awful lot that you just want to call bullshit on.

Take, for example, her opening line on Delaney – or, to quote her – “the hirsute bear of a man that is US comic Rob Delaney”. What if I were to start this review with “the smooth-skinned sparrow of a woman that is Dawn Kofie”. Would that be a reasonable way to kick off a review of her work? Or would that just be weird and creepy, even though I’m a stuffed toy? I know that physicality informs a comedian’s sense of presence, but being large isn’t really a thing that Delaney trades on that much. He was just born that way. Is it fair to nail him down with ursine metaphors before he’s opened his mouth/gaping maw?

So when Kofie goes on to say that he is “better known for being the Comedy King (her caps) of Twitter and for starring alongside Sharon Horgan in Channel 4’s funny and frank sitcom Catastrophe, than for his stand up” I’m inclined to think, well, you mean better known to YOU, Dawn Kofie, because Delaney has been in stand-up for years. Whereas you haven’t. And I think you just Googled “Rob Delaney” when asked to review him.

For the most part Kofie is bluffing, and this makes her didacticism all the more annoying. Take her review for Upstairs Downton: “Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey … lean towards the melodramatic. But The Highly Irregular’s stage interpretation attempts to play for laughs.” YES, well that’s because it’s a comedy, Dawn. “Each episode is improvised and based on suggestions from the audience” YES that’s usually what improvisation is, Dawn. “The cast … switch between a range of disappointingly time-worn characters e.g. the dim maid, the idiotic Lord and the acerbic, elderly matriarch”. YES but are they ‘time-worn’ or just familiar from the programmes these people are parodying? Because you do know that you can’t do a parody of something that’s not familiar, don’t you Dawn?

I don’t mean to be rotten to Dawn just because she’s fresh to this. There’s nothing wrong with being new at something. But I wish she wouldn’t tell us old grannies how to suck eggs. I think this reaches its apotheosis when she tells us that Andrew Doyle is a bit like Stewart Lee because he “is deconstructing stand up, and raging against the diktats that govern it, such as ‘thou shalt be topical’ and ‘thou shalt have a cleverly constructed narrative’.” These diktats are written by reviewers, Dawn, not by comedians. So is he really “raging against” them? Or have you just realised that he’s not doing the normal thing, and so you’ve backhandedly commended yourself for not stamping on him too hard? (An “ambitious and fiercely intelligent show” – three stars.)

She also tells us that Doyle “is the author of impeccably-crafted turns of phrases like, ‘the commodification of the self’.” Except that if you type ‘commodification of the self’ into Google you’ll find several scholarly articles with that title written earlier, by, um, other authors.

There’s not much to Kofie’s reviews that can’t be debunked with five minutes of research or a reasonable grasp of comedy. Or, I would suggest, with an hour of going to see the shows she dismisses for yourself.

Billy Coconuts

Graeme Connelly

THE LIST / CHORTLE

graemeconnellyGraeme Connelly doesn’t really know what sentences are supposed to do. Every time he begins one he has no idea where it will end, or what he wants it to achieve. Most of the time he ends it prematurely, as if suddenly aborting its mission. Sometimes four or five sentences are sent out in succession, eventually achieving the task of one.

It’s this sort of jolting caesura that prevents the reader from discerning what is actually going on: it’s like we’re watching the show through an oscillator.

Of Tom Craine he writes: “It is feelgood stuff throughout, there is even a mention of a giant cuddly toy bear. Craine is slightly bumbling, the clumsy sort. If the show was a romcom the audience would certainly be rooting for him…”  You’re left floundering for meaning in all this, Connelly having provided nothing but fuzzy images.

Of Jeff Leach he attests that: “He is a changed man, he says, preferring jogging to partying.

Preferring feminism to misogyny and acutely aware of sexism all around him. He backs this up with habitually referring to women in the audience as beautiful girls. His chats with the crowd prove to be the most impressive of his comedic skills.” I’m sure there’s a reason why calling every woman in the room a ‘beautiful girl’ is feminist rather than creepy, and I’m sure Leach would like it explained rather better than this. But the staccato sentences leave you reading between the lines.

Occasionally the writing breaks down to the point that it reads like phrases converted from the original Russian via freetranslation.com: “It is a worthy and welcome feature of a man’s character to spend any time he gets in the limelight promoting good in others,” Connelly attests, with all the lofty profundity of a note in a fortune cookie.

His review of Sarah Cassidy, Meanwhile, seems obsessed with the fact that the act herself is obsessed with penises, and he makes too many wild guesses as to what is going on: “The serious point here could be to objectify men in the same way women are,” he suggests. “To lend balance, there were a few vagina jokes as well. Perhaps not enough, this may have been a part of the joke.”

“Feminism hasn’t quite finished its work in getting equal gags for genitalia,” he concludes. At last – a solid statement that we can all agree on.

Marigold Bumbellina Froome