A strange but beautiful evening rainbow shone over Edinburgh just before I went to see Tom Toal’s gentle stand-up. It was an apt omen for the show, even if it didn’t match the title’s ‘sunshine’. Toal’s style is more that of a slow-burn bedtime story-teller than the man to get the party started. He is an endearingly unassuming comic, and an hour in his company passes quickly. Nevertheless, his routine needs a few more laughs to work as well as it could.
In his own bumbling way, Toal is in fact rather subversive, proving that you can be both soft and edgy.
As the title indicates, Toal talks about Bexleyheath: it’s where he grew up, and after a few years in the city he’s moving back to set up life at home. Toal evocatively captures life on the M25 commuter belt, a place one of whose main selling points is its proximity to somewhere more exciting – namely London. His upbringing in Kent has given him a number of skills, including making him ‘fluent in lad’. But Toal’s set focusses not only on the garden of England. He is interested in the idea of ‘home’ more generally, contemplating what it means to move back home after a few years of absence, and asking audience members about their relationship to wherever home might be.
Toal’s charm means that material such as this avoids being utterly pedestrian, and he throws in a few strange, amusing anecdotes to lighten the mood. But it has to be said that one of Toal’s greatest assets is that he’s not afraid of being a bit sentimental. Tales about being a father are touching, while not always particularly funny. It’s his relationship with his new daughter that prompts some heavy criticism of the misogynistic treatment of women in comedy and the media.
Toal recounts a gig when he confronted another comedian over his rape joke. In his own bumbling way, Toal is in fact rather subversive (far more so than someone with a loudspeaker in your face), proving that you can be both soft and edgy. His comments about the treatment of mental illness are likewise on point, as Toal describes his brother’s depression and attempted suicide.
All these stories make for good listening, but perhaps not the best laughing. Tighter timing and a few punchlines in the right places would crank up Toal’s laugh rate, and his success as a comic, rather than solely a storyteller.