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Edinburgh Festival review – Alfie Brown

Wednesday, August 24 2011

A show that tries too hard to impress, but is still compelling and written from the heart


Alfie Brown

Word of warning, I’m gonna sound a bit like a dad in this review. Alfie Brown does it to me; he brings out my paternal side. He’s a fascinating prospect, adopting the bulletproof arrogance of Stewart Lee, but with the barely concealed vulnerability of Russell Brand. He also has Brand’s pirate chic, but isn’t nearly as at ease with himself as the gurning cockney.

Somewhere in all this lurks the potential for a really impressive comic, whose Edinburgh show displays some glimpses of this. It’s a pretty intense hour. The 24-year-old stalks the room like a captor, grinning maniacally, taking his sweet time, keeping his audience hanging on.

Much of his set is a rail against the vacuousness of popular culture; the idiocy of the masses. Lady Gaga, the X-Factor, ITV3 – they’re of no interest to Brown. He reads Paolo Coelho. These are all familiar subjects on the comedy stage, but for once the disgust seems genuine, and there are some quality turns of phrase as he articulates it. I particularly enjoyed Lady Gaga being a “nomadic tumour” and the “sweet horror of fucking” when talking about pissed people out on the pull.

This sort of dense, extreme language is typical of Brown, and it’s redolent of Lee and Charlie Brooker. The danger with this style is that it mostly comes out as overwritten, built to say 'look look, I read books!' rather than to communicate. Brown, like the many young comics who attempt this, falls into this trap, but he does have more poetic gems than most.

That’s generally the problem with this hour – it appears Brown wants to make a point more than anything else. He wears his intelligence heavily and hammers points home in a way that’s almost draining, such as a passage on a mum explaining oral sex to her young daughter. He seems to savour the silences as if it’s somehow a victory. Entitlement in a comic is arguably the most repellent of traits, and Brown gets pretty close to this. Again, he’s not the only young comic to do this and, again, it appears to have trickled down from Stewart Lee – who can get away with it because he’s an incredible writer and has been doing it for 20+ years.

Note to young comics: you are not Stewart Lee.

What I enjoyed most are Brown’s boldness and vision – two things many comics never acquire. By boldness I mean his confrontational attitude towards audiences (even if, as I say, this aspect of his comedy is over-dominant), and his broaching of darker, personal matters such as funerals and his relationship neuroses (even if his best lines come when he is talking about pretty hack subjects like booze Britain and dirty talk). By vision I mean that this hour feels uniquely his. His brooding presence permeates it, there are some wonderful snippets of prose, and it's bookended by some heartfelt philosophy that is miraculously not trite.

Brown potentially has the capacity to move – and in comedy that’s rare as rocking horse shit. I may be wrong but I reckon if he tried to do that instead of trying to shock, if he embraced his insecurities instead of trying to cover them up, there could be fireworks.

His arrogance will immediately put off a lot of people; it’s understandable but they’d be missing a thoughtful, intriguing and compelling show that feels like a massive "fuck you" to the world. Oh and it’s got a brilliant soundtrack, but no extra stars for having good taste in music.

So there you go. And to think I managed to get through this entire review without mentioning that he gets his balls out ... ah, shite.

Three stars

Alfie Brown: The Love You Take is on at the Just the Tonic Caves at 8.50pm.


Review written by Paul Fleckney

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