Tom Allen is a sharp, incisive comedian whose talent exceeds his fame. With dazzling verbal dexterity, he commands an audience from start to finish, triggering a chorus of giggles with even the most spontaneous of asides. To watch him from the front row of a tiny, pop-up Fringe venue seemed both a privilege and a disservice.
If the capacity for off-the-cuff humour is one sign of a top-rate observational comedian, another is the power to make you question your own behaviour, and Allen succeeds in this also.
Both Worlds was in many ways a traditional stand-up comedy set, consisting of a series of sardonic observations about modern life. There was no distinguishable theme or gimmick, but this worked in the show’s favour – the jokes were left to speak for themselves, as they covered everything from marriage and mortgages to emoticons and punctuation.
As the show was effectively an Edinburgh preview, there was an occasional lack of polish in Allen’s delivery, but it mattered little – the comedian’s ability to think on his feet quashed even the briefest opportunity for an awkward silence. In fact, some of the funniest and most impressive moments of the show came when Allen was at his least prepared.
If the capacity for off-the-cuff humour is one sign of a top-rate observational comedian, another is the power to make you question your own behaviour, and Allen succeeds in this also. He manages to undercut our fickle, vain, arrogant natures with a candour that attracts rather than alienates his audience, as we realise our own contribution to the masquerade of society.
But it’s not as bleak as all that. Allen weaves through his cynicism, but he never preaches it. And even if he sparks a flash of self-consciousness, it only serves to highlight the truth of his observations.