I’ve never seen an hour of stand-up with such a high density of laughter points. Rhys James’ sets are tightly crafted, original, and confident. His improvised material flows naturally too, and his criticism of our (many) latecomers hits the mark even with those he is targeting: ‘I’m going to leave you alone now, because it doesn’t seem that you like me, and I’m having problems at work’. He takes us through Christmas presents, towels, drum kits, and memes, to the more unusual worlds of raccoons, candy floss, and political fables. However, whilst every piece is slickly performed and very funny, there's no narrative or structuring to take this beyond an hour of someone talking at you.
Proves that having gimmicks or a deeper meaning isn't necessary to give an audience a highly entertaining hour.
The thing is, James is really unlikable on stage. He does sometimes address this, and is rewarded with genuine and candid laughs, but he’s missing a trick by underplaying this. In the future he might end up playing more of a Frankie Boyle character, but for now he comes across as a young Michael McIntyre without the charm. This doesn't mean he isn't funny, and the audience does warm to his self-aware coldness. As James points out, the majority of his audience are white, middle-aged couples - and it is his material about his relationship with his parents which receives the most knowing chuckles from the crowd.
For the students in the audience, the bits that worked best were his few uses of the projector screen and effects: the sounds of drum noises were a welcome energy burst half way through, as well as contributing to an inventive round of punchlines, and the conclusion of the show is a fitting finale to his running gags. James’ hour would have benefitted from another couple of uses of multimedia like this - as it was, there were enough to make you feel that an hour of talking wasn’t somehow enough, but not enough to be fully integrated into James’ style.
There’s also the pervading sense that James doesn’t really talk about anything. The downfall of an hour of observational comedy is that you don’t come away thinking differently about things, or feeling like you witnessed an event. Everyone leaves smiling and recounting their favourite gags, but I don’t feel awed, or moved, or even like I got to know James. The wit and dexterity is there, and there in abundance, but it never feels like there is anything behind the lines. I'd describe the titular boy as sharp, not wise.
However, James proves that having gimmicks or a deeper meaning isn't necessary to give an audience a highly entertaining hour. If you’re looking to see an hour of traditional stand-up comedy, you can’t do better than Rhys James.