Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): Donald Robertson is Not a Stand-Up Comedian at Traverse theatre (Venue 15). Review by Sally Stott
Is it a stand-up show? Or is it theatre? You can imagine the conversations taking place between prospective ticket buyers and the box office. Actually it’s something inbetween: a deconstruction of comedy, the need to make people laugh and the choices we might make about who we “kill” in order to achieve this. Even though it’s a daytime performance, the set has all the trappings of a late-night comedy club – the little round tables with candles, a microphone on a stand, a backdrop that’s no more than a cold brick wall.
When the show’s creator, Gary McNair, comes on stage and starts deliberately telling bad jokes – which, incidentally, everyone laughs at – I get to briefly experience what it must be like to be a Fringe comedy reviewer (albeit one who has somehow ended up in the Traverse). If it’s always like this, I might be tempted to swap jobs.
But as well as being a funny and revealing insight into the formulaic nature of some stand-up routines – one that will change the way you watch live comedy – it’s the story of a bullied teenager and wannabe comedian, “wee man” Donald Robertson. Like so many of us, he is trying to be funny in order to be liked. And his Christmas cracker-style jokes aren’t really cutting it.
In a play within a stand-up routine, McNair tells of how he meets and befriends Robertson, becomes his mentor and gives him the tricks he needs to be funnier and, eventually, meaner. Comedy, we are told, works best when it’s at someone else’s expense. In order to beat the bullies you may have to become one yourself. There is a lovely synergy to the story – one that, through a brilliantly conceived conclusion, not only makes us laugh but asks us to consider who we’re laughing at and whether it’s justified.
Until 24 August. Today 3:45pm, more info
Originally published in The Scotsman