Dissecting the Fringe: Edinburgh Diary
My immediate reaction on leaving Nick Sun's show was 'Why do other stand-ups bother?' Which says a little about Nick Sun, and a little about me, but maybe not what you'd first think.
It's an odd reaction, objectively speaking. Why should Sun's excellence be relevant to what other comics are doing? Thus far I've seen five stand-ups, plus a couple of musical comedy acts and a spoken word piece which was stand-up in all but location in the Fringe guide. Most of these comedians aren't even trying to do what Nick Sun achieves. The only comic I've seen who mines the same seam of bitterness and alienation was Lewis Schaffer (in the same room, coincidentally), and the fact that Sun did some of the things he did but better doesn't change the fact that Schaffer's was a good show.
The only other comedian I've had this reaction to – 'Why do other stand-ups bother?' - was Daniel Kitson. I think I had the reaction in each case for different reasons. In the case of Kitson, it's simply because he's Kitson. (To give you a idea of how he is regarded in the comedy world, I was talking a few years ago with a circuit comediani about our favourite stand-ups, and when I mentioned Kitson he replied 'I assumed we were talking about my favourites other than Kitson'.) Sun is very good, but not quite that good. The reaction this time, I think, was down to him being so refreshing after a diet of comics who ranged from very enjoyable to average to downright poor, but who were all doing pretty orthodox stand-up. It turned out that Sun's particular take on the mechanics of the form was just what I needed at that point.
It's not that he's reinventing the wheel – plenty of comics have have things to say about inane audience interaction, predictable stand-up topics and the whole experience of being in a dank room listening to someone talk into a mic at you. But I can't recall a comic who blends this metacomedy so forcefully into the persona of a frustrated, bitter stand-up, who hates what he is doing but is forced to do it anyway. Sun, of course, has an excellent command of the dynamics of stand-up, and has things to say about some of those hackneyed topics he so decries, but his disgust is no less convincing for all that. (In theory, an anti-comedian who completed subverted what they were doing to the point that their show became boring would be pushing the idea further, but it's difficult to see how such a show could be funny. Sun is funny – and anyway, the fact that he is actually good at stand-up adds a certain poignancy to his dislike of the form.)
i Don't worry, it's no-one famous. Sorry, Sean.