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Edinburgh Festival review – Andy Zaltzman

Thursday, August 18 2011

Our premier satirist and Bugler has reached new heights

Andy Zaltzman

Not many comics have a gag about Dolly Parton's tits during a routine about the Arab Spring.

Andy Zaltzman does, but then Zaltzman's on fire at the moment, he can pretty much do what he likes. One half of political satire The Bugle, I reckon the funniest thing currently being produced on TV/radio, the rigour of constantly writing appears to have taken Zaltzman to new heights with what is his best show I've seen by him yet.

Sadly, despite the enormous popularity of the Bugle, the Stand is only half full tonight – this venue is increasingly becoming the sanctuary for under-valued comics (it could even be a collective noun: a stand of under-valued comics).

The show is loosely about whether Zaltzman would have the cajones to do what the Arab Springers did and start a revolution, but it's mostly an hour of satire, on things like the death of Osama Bin Laden, the 'big society', the recent riots, the AV vote, the phone-hacking scandal and so on. There are plenty of trademark Zaltzman touches such as the contrived similes, extended analogies, sacks of silliness, juvenile asides and heavy punning. Indeed, Bugle fans are treated to a real-life "pun run" on Bitey Nigel, the police dog who resigned in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal. It gets both applause and boos, which you suspect is exactly what Zaltzman wants.

There's a quality touch whereby he has an "instant satire" radio onstage, which alerts him to any news that requires satirising. Periodically he sits down by the radio and takes notes, then as each bulletin fades out, a new story begins about what latest calamity has befallen a series of Northern Irish golfers. It's the perfect example of Zaltzman's penchant for wilfully nichey, indulgent, unexpected twists. I swear he was laughing at his own obscure jokes at this point.

His style is never going to be for everyone. It's oddly blokey, I'm not sure why, it just comes out that way. If you have no interest in satire or current affairs then there's not much for you here. And Zaltzman doesn't have the sort of showbiz energy or pizzazz that, say, his Bugle partner John Oliver has, so there's not much in the way of rapport. He's more wordy and cerebral. You kind of have to concentrate, for crying out loud.

But Zaltzman is one of the best satirists the UK has ever produced and he's at the peak of his powers, so it's worth going to see him for that reason alone. But if you are gonna go and see this show, be warned about the shirt he wears. It's fucking dreadful.

4.5 stars

Andy Zaltzman: Armchair Revolutionary is on at 4.25pm at the Stand.

What the punters say

Sarah, Brighton: 3.5/5. "It was too political for me. I liked the silly puns though."
James, Brighton: 3.5/5. "He's quite new to me but I like political stuff. He takes a satirical angle and really nails it. I liked his analogies as well."
Shaista Aziz, Manchester: 4.5/5/ "Very funny, very clever. I like the stuff on the riots especially. It's very silly but in a good way."

Review written by Paul Fleckney


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