Crowd Surfing (Naz Osmanoglu & Stuart Goldsmith Edinburgh previews, Glassblowers 6/7/2011)
How do you stand out from a crowd? That’s the question facing every stand-up at the Fringe, where the number of acts gathered could form an independent country (they outnumber the population of the Vatican City at any rate). It might be easier if you’re performing in Urdu, or on stilts, or improvising topical hip-hop versions of classic tunes (‘The Night They Drove Old Brixton Down’?), but these strategies bring their own dangers. At the risk of painting in extremely broad strokes, most stand-ups at least gravitate towards a middle ground: one man (usually, although less so of late), one mic, telling stories about themselves and modern life. The trick, then, is how to make a niche for yourself by developing small but important variations on this formula.
Naz Osmanoglu and Stuart Goldsmith illustrate two of the possibilities. Neither tries to reinvent the stand-up wheel, but there are notable differences between them. Osmanoglu is more about a number of set-piece routines, definite high points which his set is structured around. This suits his onstage energy – always bristling, but positively ricochetting around the stage during the climax to one of his stories. He manages to be propulsive without skidding into mania, and importantly manages to keep the stretches between the big set pieces pretty lively as well.
Material-wise, Osmanoglu’s selling-point is his Turkish-British heritage. He has a few adroit but rather standard observations on the respective stereotypes, but things become more interesting when he burrows into his relationship with his father. There are no unsettling revelations here, unless you count a hilariously disgusting lads’ night out in Amsterdam (yes, I know - but trust me, it’s funny). It would be interesting to see if the high-octane delivery would be muted if he took on more personal themes.
I’m guessing Stuart Goldsmith doesn’t have a convoluted ethnic heritage to draw on. It’s very much the trials and tribulations of a middle-class bloke for him. Unlike Osmanoglu, his delivery and material is geared towards lower-key incidents and smaller details. Indeed, for much of the set, his material, enjoyable though it is, reveals less about him than his manner.
Where Osmanoglu is high on energy, Goldsmith charms us into submission. He has the kind of twinkle in his eye and relaxed manner that apparently characterises every second Irish stand-up. This makes him delightful company (unlike every second Irish stand-up), but does mean that the set as whole sometimes drifts. However, this manner does very neatly counterpoint Goldsmith’s theme, that of taking responsibility. He doesn’t speak like a man shouldering much of a burden, but this makes his tales of anxiety and negative thinking that much easier to warm to. There’s very little by way of exaggeration for comic effect here; the stories are low-key enough to sound real even if one hundred per cent fiction. It makes for a show which burns more slowly than Osmanoglu’s, but with just as much warmth.