When Brendon Burns announced last year that he would neither be promoting his Fringe show nor charging for tickets, a few eyebrows were raised. However, on the scale of Burns controversies, this was a relatively minor tremor. When it turned out to be a success, a few more people took notice. Burns is back to repeat the same trick this year, with similarly positive results.
At forty-something he is already an elder statesman of the Fringe and a must-see see for any serious comedy fan.
The relationship Burns has with his audience has developed to the point where it’s the polar opposite of what you see in a place like the Assembly rooms. It’s clear that this is a deliberately crafted intimacy on Burns’ part – as he says himself, the show has the feel of a group of friends sitting down in a room and asking “So, what’s up Brendon?” The sense of familiarity makes people more willing to accept that they might have trouble finding the venue (is it deliberately not where is says on the map?!) The odds of any old punter wandering in off the street is vanishingly small, a tiny miracle in the Scottish capital this month.
The show itself is Burns’ usual fare. In its broadest sense, it’s about how people deal with one another, individually and in groups, and all the cultural and racial idiosyncrasies that we think so important. For a comic whose bête noir is excessive self-regard, he might count himself lucky to be living in the age of the selfie. He opens by referencing the Andy Warhol's dictum that, one day, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame. Burns points out, however, that Warhol “didn’t mean it was a good fucking idea”. There is a subtext here; for all the audience-performer intimacy, he makes it clear that this is very much his show, that we’re here to listen to what he thinks. And he needs to put down this marker because, as is to be expected, he has some pretty big targets in sight.
He leads with the right, taking on the recent allegations concerning a former Conservative Prime Minister, and follows up with the left, asking us to consider what history tells us about the endgame of a self-styled ‘nationalist socialist’ party, one of which currently governs from Holyrood. As ever, it’s not so much the delivery that counts (he’s not Lee Mack by any means) but the ideas that keep everything going. Everyone is on board, allowing Burns license to be as playful or as confrontational as he sees fit.
There were a few recycled jokes (both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump have convinced him that he might not have fully recovered from mushrooms), but these were of little consequence given the quality of the new material. However, there was one element of the show that was slightly jarring, and it wasn’t until a few hours later that it occurred to me what it could be. Given his disdain for people privileging their own opinions, is it possible that Burns is beginning to exempt himself from this sort of judgement? Granted, he does admit that he holds his own opinion on various topics in very low regard (One of my favourite quotes of his is from a previous show when he responds to some imagined person who has taken issue with what he has said: “Mate, I don’t give that much of a fuck about what I reckon.”) Maybe it’s just me but there is a sense that he is more ‘preachy’ (if that’s even the right word) than in shows gone by.
In any case, he might well feel entitled to assume this role. At forty-something he is already an elder statesman of the Fringe and a must-see see for any serious comedy fan.