Political Animal – Scottishreferendogeddon 2014

Compere Andy Zaltzman sets up the evening by asking the audience who is a no and who is a yes, wondering aloud if political comedy has any capacity to effect change and promising a concluding audience referendum. Quick and vibrant, he is not afraid of controversial topics, wading casually into the quagmire that is the Israel -Palestine conflict, but showing enough nous that controversy is not the only source of comedy. It's not all so artfully judged; at one point, he relies on a recording gadget to supposedly reveal interviewees' true feelings of certain topics, which goes on a bit long and lacks any thought-provoking bite. His crude finale also drags and isn't very funny, and he is at his best when sticking to satirical content. Off-topic musings aside, he delivers the absurdities underlying the referendum debate, including the supposed relevance to the the 21st century of a farrago in a field seven centuries years ago.

Presents an opportunity to look at the referendum debate in a refreshingly cynical and humorous way.

Beneath Scottish Andrew Learmouth's nervous manner belies a quietly cynical knife-edge that sticks to the satirical theme. There is a silly surrealism to his musings, but this allow for creative deconstruction of the logic presupposing politicians' bizarre statements, such as Alex Salmond's promise that he would blow himself up with a grenade if it meant that Scotland would become independent. Although he states that he is not political, he targets the familiar rhetoric of both sides with intelligence, wit and flair.

Scottish Mark Nelson talks about the problems of apathy and accidentally spoiled votes, of not trusting stupid people to vote, nor the Bieber-generation. He talks about the effects of the Commonwealth Games on his native Glasgow. His points are more general and his patter more observational; political precision or narrative nuance notable only in their absence. He takes aim at the famously difficult targets of Hitler and Nigel Farage, neither of whom will be getting a vote next month. In context it would have been more interesting to unpick where recently elected 1st Scottish UKIP MEP, David Coburn, fits into the Faragean media saturation, rather than standard panel show pot-shots.

English political comedian/activist Kate Smurthwaite energetically rushes along, discussing differences in Scottish and English swearing with finesse but without clear direction. Although she displays sharp political intelligence generally, her comic understanding of the independence debate specifically is vague and abstract, lacking any real bite. For a political comedian and activist in a politically-themed evening, something more topical would be appreciated in her very short set.

English-based Scot Iain Stirling is young, scruffy, skinny-jeaned, energetic and charming. He talks about the referendum debate and its effect on him. He compares the potential Scottish independence to a recent break-up with his girlfriend, a tired comparison which lacks intelligence and originality and doesn't pay off. He delivers a very funny joke about Alex Salmond's apparent possession of all the answers, that hints at some depth to the discussion. However apart from this, he mainly sticks to generalisms of language; like Smurthwaite this mostly means swearing, and the trials of spending Scottish money in England, both of which have already been discussed tonight, and before, ad nauseum.

Political Animal has different guests each night with Zaltzman as host and presents an opportunity to look at the referendum debate in a refreshingly cynical and humorous way. However, where it works best tonight is when the comedians have done their homework and stick to the theme, rather than digress into generalities. As such, the audience swingometer seemed to end the night at rest.

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Performances

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The Blurb

The Fringe’s only and possibly best long-running political stand-up gig returns to The Stand with five shows devoted to the impending Scottish independence referendum, and the thorny issue of whether Scotland should blast off from / continue cuddling up with the rest of Britain, and its subsequent glorious / disastrous future (delete according to preference). Hosted by Andy Zaltzman (The Bugle podcast, 7 Day Saturday, sundry other stuff), with a different bill each night, featuring some of Scotland’s and the rest of the universe’s finest comedians. ‘A show buzzing with ideas’ (Evening Standard).

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