For the first ten minutes, Shane Dundas’ material revolves entirely around his fear of a solo show. Accustomed to forming half of a double act, he confides in us that when alone on the stage he feels, ‘like a chicken in headlights’. He anticipates that his nervous awkwardness will prevent him from achieving that elusive but all-important rapport with the audience. Jokes like these are only funny if the act does in fact manage to totally dispel these fears. This, sadly, didn’t happen.
In hindsight his milking of the ‘I’m too nervous to succeed’ joke is tragic, smacking of self-fulfilling prophecy. At the time, it was charming enough. Dundas took nice advantage of an opportunity for some ad-lib when a woman in the audience started to cough in the middle of the calming breathing exercises he had us doing. His faux-sincere, ‘Have you breathed before?’ made everyone laugh.
It’s difficult to pinpoint why exactly Dundas goes wrong, but wrong he goes. It didn’t help that the majority of his jokes weren’t funny, of course. However, more damning was more the way in which he dealt with the poor reception that turned people against him. With vicious circularity, the more threatened Dundas felt by the audience’s negativity, the less funny he became.
The watershed moment was probably when Dundas was upstaged by a nine year old. Irritated by his question as to whether she knew the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, her condescending reply of ‘I’m not that young’ firmly established the status quo. Other hecklers were less subtle. When Dundas asked the audience whether they wanted to see the corpses he played in his career as an extra, one man replied loudly, ‘No.’ Unlike the nine year-old, Dundas had no come back.
As hecklers turned into walkers, Dundas crumbled further. Having finished a Jesus joke that saw three people leave before the end, Dundas complained that if the deserters had stayed a bit longer, they’d have realized that the joke was actually quite inoffensive. In other words: if the walkers stayed, they wouldn’t have left. Dundas didn’t bother coming up for an excuse for the disappearance of the next five people.
The sad truth was that for most of the second half of the show the only people laughing were laughing amongst themselves, independent of the gig. Dundas never really believed in himself. By the end, neither did we.