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Josh Howie: Gran Slam

Tuesday, 5 October, 2010

Edinburgh 2010 – Plesance Courtyard – 5-30 August – 21.45 (1:00)

Taking inspiration from the four years he spent living with his grandmother, this comedy set from Josh Howie is immaculately constructed but has serious quality control issues.

Early in the performance he warns the audience, in the first of many pop cultural references, that his show is similar to much-lauded HBO television series The Wire: “You need to watch for six hours before you start enjoying it.”  If anything, the opposite is actually true.  The comedian is so keen to shoehorn a joke of some description into every line, that an initially enjoyable show ends up feeling more like a comedy endurance test.

There’s a framework of sorts – with the set roughly following the performer’s “Old Lady Survival Guide” written on a whiteboard as the set unfurls.  The “Ten Top Tips” range from the instructive “maintain your own personal space and buy a strong lock for your door”, to the more sinister “keeping them alive will kill you”.  These, however, are really just jumping off points for ever more convoluted jokes and flights of fancy.  The same can be said for the set, mocked up to resemble his grandmother’s living room, which is utilised sparingly for nothing more than a few cheap laughs.

The word play in the show’s title provides fair notice of the type of humour and no pun is overlooked.  There are a handful of gems – in particular a section which seems to indicate the performer is losing the plot, only to surface with a pun of breathtaking gall.

With so many jokes of all types interlinking the ever-present puns, it’s perhaps not surprising that many are weak, obvious or simply ill-judged.  There’s still a huge amount of cracking one-liners though, particularly when he addresses his Jewish heritage, but they can’t make up for the equal number of clangers.  More off-putting still, the performer has the slightly superior belief that everybody watches exactly the same television programmes as he does – seemingly becoming confused when a reference fails to chime with every audience member.  Stopping off to explain the concept behind a little-watched reality show does little to maintain the flow of the show and means the punchline, when it comes, seems hardly worth the effort.

He’s a slightly nervous performer, giving the show a not-unpleasant edge – particularly when, as often happens, a joke falls flat and the laughs fail to materialise.   Less pleasantly, his feckless onstage persona occasionally lapses into mean-spiritedness, losing any carefully nurtured empathy in a couple of lines.  The obviously intelligent comedian wastes ample opportunities to provide a more meaningful insight into the human condition and his complex relationship with his family.  But whenever the possibility of some welcome emotional resonance seems to be imminent he shrinks away, preferring to seek solace in often juvenile humour.

Having said this, the theme does work fairly well fairly well before running out of steam after about 45 minutes.  Howie seems uncertain how to end the show and settles on a lacklustre whimper.

Cast Credits: Josh Howie.

Company Credits: Writer – Josh Howie

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Friday August 20

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