Josie Long, arguably the highest profile comic on this year’s Free Fringe, and newcomer Sam Schäfer are an odd pairing. Whilst Long wears her awkwardness as geek chic, Schäfer’s hangs from him like unwashed cotton. When she is up, he is down. He deadpans as she lays it on thick. However, they are both, in their own unique ways, idealists and romantics, obsessives with deceptively similar obsessions.
Our theme for the hour is not love – although love is part of it – but romance. For both comics romance seems to be about those moments when people’s weirdness and potential burst out in honest and beautiful ways. During Long’s preamble we are asked to write our most romantic moments, misguided or otherwise, on pieces of paper: a promise that the show’s finale will pierce our anonymity a little bit and find the weirdness hidden amongst us. There are home-made badges for the best ones.
In the meantime, Long ambles through the sort of shambolic inventiveness her sets are famous for, sharing her pessimistic attitude towards romance. Yet, as always, she is brimming with childlike wonder. However this is really a showcase for Schäfer and the longer part of the set goes squarely to the newcomer.
Schäfer receives a deservedly mixed response. The self deprecation that punctuates much of his self-analytical study is monotonous and his storytelling isn’t quite strong enough (yet) to delay the next laugh for as long as he often does. However, when the laughs do come, they are thick, gloopy and full of sugar. Just as Long finds surreal whimsy enveloped in the everyday, Schäfer finds elaborate detail, fixated analysis. A long diversion on The Black Panthers, for example, projects an elaborately essayistic style onto the casualness of a friend’s voice, finding something deeply surreal in its own relentless seriousness.
The show’s joint finale, promised earlier by our hand-written notes, is fascinating, bizarre and touching. It provides material much better suited to Long’s crescendoing enthusiasm than to Schäfer’s downbeat rhythm, but more importantly the misguided eroticisms and touching sentiments remind us that the detail and intrigue that fuels each comic’s set is lurking also in the seats next to our own.
This show is awkward largely because it sells a Sam Schäfer set on a Josie Long ticket. It’s too big a contrast to work comfortably at the moment. However, watch Schäfer closely. One day he might just show you infinity in a homemade badge.