Four on Demand is a free lunchtime showcase for the standup skills of host Alex Hoyle, ‘the Bad Boy of Niceness’, actor and comedian Becky Brunning (Six Steps to Joy), and comedy writer Naomi Carter (Carter and Ollerton Won’t Go Quietly), plus one special guest.
Born in Wales to Egyptian parents, Hamdi is a twitchy, slightly frenetic performer.
As host, Hoyle does a sterling job. Free Fringe audiences can be highly unpredictable, but he is undeterred by the small size of the crowd and its mostly foreign background, managing to build humour, even running jokes, out of their professions and nationalities, with skills worthy of improvised comedy. He constructs a shared atmosphere of merriment in which everyone can feel included, and hands to his fellow comics a warm audience, genuinely ready to laugh.
First to accept the baton is Omar Hamdi. Born in Wales to Egyptian parents, Hamdi is a twitchy, slightly frenetic performer. The only thing, in his opinion, which prevents him from being diagnosed with ADHD is the fact that he isn’t English and white. Straight away he nails his colour to the mast, so to speak. His ‘angle’ seems obvious, and although his stereotyping of the white middle-classes seems rather stale, with slightly weak characterisation, he does it with a sense of innocent fun which makes it amusing.
Yet there is something lacking. He is likeable, his energy and attitude are appealing, but he fails to capitalise on his unusual background, and leaves his themes under-developed. He seems a little too keen to remain inoffensive, to make no critical or divisive comments, even on the subject of his unwanted arranged marriage and Islamic dating. Instead he turns the focus on his own personality, on his clinginess and failure in love, all well-trodden comedic ground, but it does not ring true. He simply doesn’t seem enough of a loser to make the material work. He is endearing, amusing, and no more.
Next up is Becky Brunning, with her spectacles, sixty-watt smile and impossibly curly hair. Her stance alone inspires confidence, awkward as it is, and when she tries to put the audience at their ease by imagining them naked, deliberately and with obvious enjoyment, you know you are in a safer pair of hands comedically. Reading from her book on how to perform standup, she draws constantly on her experience as a performer both for her material and for her persona. This produces some great gags very well delivered, including some gentle side-swipes at the Comedy patriarchy, and even when her jokes do not land as they should she deals with it brilliantly, remaining funny and unflappably nice throughout. Her comedy insinuates itself, forcing its way inexorably through the cracks in her audience’s defences and flourishing there.
Lydia Rickards, who filled the guest slot, suffered by comparison. Less confident, a little more stumbling, she inevitably removed some of the audience’s sense of confidence and made it harder to relax. This was compounded by an early and rather disgusting joke about masturbation. Funny, yes, but unsettling, and not in fact representative of the rest of her set, which dealt mostly with car-boot-sales. Rickards is another example of a performer who does not do justice to her own material; she has a tendency to throw away her punchlines, and while she has some good ideas for callbacks she never develops them fully. Her talk of car-boot-sales is inevitably of limited general interest, which she might do better to acknowledge, and the good ideas she draws from this, like Lego as a replacement for gold, she does not run with as far as she could. If her set were an academic paper one would call it ‘suggestive’; there is more work to be done.
While Rickards throws away her punchlines, Naomi Carter, the next act, doesn’t seem to have any. Instead she opts for a style of broad, generally humorous discourse, setting out a series of real events from her life for the audience to take or leave. Unlike with many comics, one has no difficulty believing that these events genuinely took place, because they are simply too mundane to be worth making up. They are often quite funny, but not enough to build a standup set out of. She walks the well-worn path of comic self-deprecation, claiming to ‘mess up all the time’, but her evidence for this seems to be a tendency to apologise to people and things she bumps into, an experience she clearly expects her audience to share, and rightly. It seems strange to take very general observations and use them to support claims of unusual incompetence. Her description of her parents’ odd behaviour is funny enough for a chat with friends, but not for a Fringe performance.
Finally, because somehow there was time left, we were treated to a fifth act, Chris Chopping (Self Sabotage). Chopping cuts a strange, rather creepy figure, with horrible shoulder-length hair, a nasty weak moustache and a buttoned-up cardigan. He inhabits the role of the frightening loser with ease and comfort, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, much of his material is concerned with his own sexual unsuccess. While this again is common territory, his approach is unusual and inventive; he can no longer even have sexual dreams any more, for example, because his unconscious has forgotten what it might be like. Chopping provided an unexpectedly polished end to the show, and in all it was a pleasing hour of free comedy.