Tom Shillue: Impossible

American stand-up Tom Shillue opens by asking why he, a comic on his first run at the Fringe, has the right to stand on stage for an hour and talk about himself. It’s the stand-up equivalent of Aristotle’s ruminations on the nature of being, to which no comedian/philosopher has yet found a satisfactory answer.

As the stories don’t offer laugh after laugh, they could be built up to more of a crescendo. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen

Shillue then parks that question to one side for the remainder of the show. What ensues is a handful of anecdotes based on his youth and young manhood in Boston and New York.

Prefacing these tales is the explanation that some of details of the show may be more attuned to American audiences. If it's the case that something goes over our heads we are advised to click our fingers Bebop-style in order to have them explained (nobody gives it a go at any stage during the show). The attempt to engage with the audience could really have been developed further. The Assembly Rooms Studio 2 is not a big venue, nor was it full – a more concerted attempt to break the ice with the audience would have been of huge benefit to the performance.

Shillue talks about his life growing up in Massachusetts and his first few visits to 1980’s New York. It’s a straight-forward enough premise. To begin with, he has a piece comparing the lives of his children with his life growing up – how life was simpler back then, free from certain restrictions of modern society (the phrase “political correctness gone mad” isn’t a million miles away at this point). These bits are slightly clumsy, bordering on the insensitive, but there is no malice whatsoever to them, they’re just somewhat unsatisfying.

In fairness, Shillue draws back from this and begins going into detail about his own life: his early years with his brother; staying with his grandmother and uncle in his first years at college’ working during the summer at his dad’s ice-cream parlour. If this sounds like the nostalgia-based comedy of any number of other comedians then you would not be wrong. However, Shillue is such a consummate story-teller that the audience has no problem going along with him.

The anecdotes are very well-paced with the occasional background music underscoring Shillue’s talent for crafting tales. On a side note, the man is a fine singer too, with the one chance he has of showing off his voice being a welcome novelty. There is a criticism to be made that, as the stories don’t offer laugh after laugh, they could be built up to more of a crescendo. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen and too often they peter out.

Ultimately, there is a feeling that the show was more suited to (and would have gone down a lot better with) an American audience. More willingness to adapt the routine to fit the audience would be a positive development of this well-crafted show. 

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The Blurb

One of the best comedy storytellers in the US, Time Out New York called Tom ‘a pioneer’ and named him ‘One of NYC's comedy linchpins’. Tom put together Impossible especially for the Fringe. Surprised that Tom had never played in the UK, Daniel Kitson recommended him, and here we are. ‘It’s when Tom Shillue settles into one of his thoughtfully crafted, autobiographical stories that he really shines’ (Time Out New York). ‘Master storyteller’ ( ‘A side-splitting soliloquy’ ( ‘Our generation's Garrison Keillor’ ( ‘Flawless comedic retelling’ (

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