Barry Castagnola has summed up all of the most depressing things about Fringe comedy with his newest character. Donny Donkins is a failing comic with no talent and delusional aspirations. He has spent money he doesn’t have to come to Edinburgh to showcase an ability he doesn’t have and he is desperate for approval.
This entire show is dependent on its context; it surely couldn’t work outside the Festival. Donkins talks naively of his ‘five year plan’ to make it big and calls his inane jokes ‘edgy’.
At first, it is very funny. This is astute satire and Castagnola pulls off his bumbling persona very well. But after a while, as Donkins looks hopefully and then miserably, at his cue cards, the hilarity of his badness begins to fade. There is only so long you can watch someone pretending to be terrible and desperate before you stop finding it funny and start feeling terrible and desperate yourself. Within fifteen minutes the comments about losing the audience begin. About forty minutes in, Donkins’ desperation descends into hysteria. ‘Please be nice to me,’ he sobs, ‘there’s a reviewer in tonight and I’ve borrowed so much money to be here.’ The laughs are sparse.
The problem with this show is that the character is a fantastic concept for about ten minutes. After this, the misery is infectious. The running joke of Donkins having just found out that his dad isn’t his real dad became actively upsetting. The real low point happened when an audience member had to guess how many tries it would take Donkins to find a card in a pre-recorded magic trick. In the video, our magician walks into a letting agency, asks the agent at the desk to think of a card, and begins to pull cards off the deck one by one, every time asking if this was the right card. It takes him forty eight cards to find the right card. After half an hour of similar gags, this wasn’t even awkward any more. It was downright boring.
Donny Donkins is a great spoof on the Fringe comedy scene and the show contains good variation between cringe-worthy stand-up, terrible character acts, songs, video clips and two interviews (which really were funny). The problem is that it gets tiring quickly and when there really are so many depressing and desperate comics to see in Edinburgh, even an ironic one can only be borne for so long.