Will Franken: Little Joe

There are two ways to reach the small room where UK-based American character comedian Will Franken is performing. The easiest route – albeit usually reserved for a quick exit – is to descend the stone steps from the pavement into the basement. The slightly more complex alternative is to descend from within the building. The latter, to be honest, feels much more appropriate. Attending a Will Franken show is like spiralling down the rabbit hole: it’s a trifle absurd, a tad confusing, and undoubtedly hovering somewhere between the justly confusing and laugh-out-loud genius.

It’s disconcerting but - for whatever reason - also really, really funny

From the sound-effects-laden opening – filled with self-identified invisible people who aren’t really in the room – there’s barely a pause for breath, with a succession of sketches and characters inevitably slipping into each other, sometimes within seconds rather than minutes. There are repetitions, verbal gymnastics and repeated loops back to dialogue from earlier scenes; there are moments of strange, ethereal calm, almost immediately followed by behaviour that could almost be termed manic. It’s disconcerting but - for whatever reason - also really, really funny.

In Franken’s world, troubled banks start sending out suicide notes to their customers; US fighter pilots are no longer sure who the enemy is, and there are mortifying results when a jetliner unexpectedly collides with a rainbow. Talking of crashing airliners, Franken offers possibly the most inventive 9/11 sketch ever – admittedly not a hugely varied competition, but none-the-less a sign that this particular writer/performer isn’t one to shy away from any topic. The titular Little Joe, incidentally, is either a rather disturbing Yorkshireman or some half-pig-half-rabbit abomination constantly spinning away in a nearby river. Or both. Time and space here are constantly mucked about with, not least during several sequences where Franken essentially puts himself on trial because of the very same sketch that’s actually taking place at the time.

The best option for such a show is arguably to sit back and not think too much; to let it flow over you, including the limited audience participation section early on. “Where can a man go to be sexist?” might not be the best song ever written, but you’ll be laughing along – perhaps more in amazement than anything else, but laughing all the same.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Who or what is Little Joe? Is he a creature in a recently discovered unpublished Beatrix Potter manuscript? Or is he a new ride at Disneyland Paris? Maybe he’s a convoluted metaphor for humanity’s Sisyphean struggle to survive and find meaning? Two things we know for certain: Firstly, Little Joe is a half-pig and half-rabbit who lives in the water. Secondly, he’s a conveniently surreal springboard for another hour of Will Franken’s patented satirical madness: ‘the fastest, funniest character comic in the business’ ***** (Scotsman). ‘A master of delusion, an id unchained’ (Robin Williams).

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