According to the press release, this year’s show is Will Durst’s “highly anticipated return to the Fringe after over a decade.” The public didn’t get the message and on the evening I saw Durst’s show, eleven out of a possible one hundred and fifty people showed up. Although audience size has no bearing on your quality as a comedian, an empty house can shake even the most seasoned stand-up. Despite his best efforts, Durst’s decades of experience can’t fully compensate such a disappointment.
He has a commanding stage presence and a delicate manner in which he confronts his own age and its associated stereotypes.
Durst is one of the premier storytellers at the Fringe, and his show is as much a life lesson as it is a quality hour of comedy. Hailed as one of the great political satirists from across the pond, everything about Durst’s comedy is distinctly American. He is a proud man with a proud history and he speaks about the baby boomers with admirable care and affection. An image of the past in his suit and bracers, Durst has a particularly powerful section on the successes and failures of modern life and offers intelligent insights into the generational divide. While his comedy isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, there is a scintillating eye for detail which is almost unrivalled amongst his rivals. Like a preacher, Durst is a man you want to listen to.
Disappointingly, Durst’s approach isn’t always consistent and certain topics suffer from being too alien to the British audience. Although some work has been done to keep Durst’s show accessible, certain details mean little to the uninformed Brit. While I admire Durst’s precision, he doesn’t help himself with repeated frustration at the audience’s reluctance to laugh. I sympathise to an extent, but an audience of eleven will always struggle in a large space – Durst only aggravates the problem. Despite these issues, he does well to maintain momentum and his experience keeps him on his feet where I expect many others would have failed. He has a commanding stage presence and a delicate manner in which he confronts his own age and its associated stereotypes. His show is enjoyable throughout and although there are mistakes, the end result is impressive.
As a final note, I feel it is important to acknowledge the financial difficulty for performers at the festival. The main Fringe venues do not book comedians; rather performers are asked to fork out for the venue themselves. With immense competition and extortionate August rents, small audiences can mean financial ruin for the performer. As a festival which prides itself for its diversity, the current system is slowly gentrifying our beloved Fringe and little is being done about it. While there isn’t an easy solution, without public support, comedians like Will Durst will increasingly stay away from Edinburgh’s financial black hole. It is never nice to perform to a tiny audience, but to comedians at the Fringe, there are far greater repercussions.