Steve Bugeja: Self Doubt (I Think)

The best way to describe Steve Bugeja’s Self Doubt (I Think) is to compare it to something like a chocolate bar in that you have to get past the initial wrapping in order to get to the thing that’s actually good and that you look forward to; we have to sit through some rather frustrating exposition - which admittedly serves a point to build Bugeja’s character in spite of how bad it is - before we get to experience the hilarity and extent of which that Bugeja is able to command and wield the stand-up art from.

An unobtrusively clever show, unobtrusive because Bugeja doesn’t adequately set our expectations for how enjoyable it is

As is traditional, the format of the stand-up is split into two halves with an interval breaking them up. Bugeja - acting as his own support - opts to interact with various audience members, with mixed results. And ‘mixed’ is putting it nicely. If the first half is supposed to warm the audience up, it really does the opposite, which is a shame because the second half of prepared material is one of the funniest hours of stand-up there is, but getting to that point feels endless. Pure, unadulterated negativity and self-consciousness just radiates off Bugeja during his warm-up to the point that if we weren’t aware that we had bought tickets to a stand-up show, we wouldn’t know that we were in one. Being self-deprecating is quite central to a lot of British comedy, but Bugeja pushes it to a concerning extreme. The material is often so self-deprecatory that it crosses a line that I wasn’t even sure existed in comedy and stops being funny.

There is such a nervous energy that Bugeja radiates onstage that it’s difficult to tell the extent of that he is committing to the bit and how much is genuine, and the show becomes not only observationist and anecdotal in its structure, but also has a bit of character comedy mixed in as well. Everything he does, every joke is set within this overall narrative of his own inability to make decisions - which he sets up really well - and since everything works to reinforce that, we buy into the show and his character, into the narrative, into the absurdities and images that he weaves throughout the hour.

Self Doubt (I Think) is an unobtrusively clever show, unobtrusive because Bugeja doesn’t adequately set our expectations for how enjoyable it is to watch. His command over the stand-up art from is so technically skilled that he is able to play around with it a bit more, creating and compounding into these really vivid images that possess multiple layers of hilarity, picking up and using already established in-jokes with us to build upon his existing material.

All in all it is an intimate show, a camaraderie is established. Bugeja chats with us in a way that lets us see behind the workings of his material, interjecting the odd snippet of information of how he built the joke. Whether inadvertently or not, Bugeja does break the fourth wall through the dialogue that he starts with us, going beyond the kind of audience interaction he attempts in the first half of his show.

In Self Doubt (I Think), Bugeja clearly demonstrates a talent and aptitude for comedy and that he has earned his place in the spotlight, that he is more than the support act he attempts to establish that he is - something I genuinely hope he knows - because reinforcing that idea undermines how much wit and humour that he consistently demonstrates during the second half of his show. He has a comically unique perspective that is truly and purely funny, it just takes time to notice as he shoots himself in the foot with his improvisation.

Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

Monkey Barrel Comedy

Steve Bugeja: Self Doubt (I Think)

★★★★
Music Hall Aberdeen

Iain Stirling - Relevant

★★★★
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The House with the Chicken Legs

★★
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Peter Pan Goes Wrong

★★★★
Eventim Apollo

Iliza Shlesinger - Hard Feelngs Tour

★★★★★
Park Theatre London

The Time Machine

★★★★★

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The creator and star of ITV2's hit sitcom, Buffering, returns to Monkey Barrel Comedy following a sell-out 2022 tour.

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