Dissecting the Fringe: Edinburgh Diary
Thursday 21st- Friday 22nd
That hardy perennial, the one-liner comic, is well represented at this year’s Fringe. A couple of different acts I saw illustrated the variety of approaches available to the most stripped-down form of stand-up. In particular, they each found different ways of dealing with what is often a characteristic feature of one-liner comedy: the comedian, since they are giving us the joke and waiting for us to get it, assumes a high-status role, remote from the cares and worries of the audience members they are deigning to guide towards enjoyment.
Mark Simmons wears the de facto uniform of recent one-liner comics, a suit, but it’s rumpled and not particularly intimidating, much like the man himself.[i] He does tell us that if we don’t get a joke we should raise a hand and he can explain it, which sounds very high-status but in practice undercuts his role. He’s also a naturally warm performer: ‘warm’ can mean a number of different things depending on the kind of show in question, but in this case it means he giggles endearingly at his own jokes. In other circumstances, giggling indicates a nervousness which can ruin a show, but Simmons is a fluent enough performer that the audience never worries about his ability.
Sean Nolan takes the theme of non-dominant performer even further. He wears a t-shirt and jeans and reads most of his jokes from a notebook (many of which, interestingly, are the same as when he performed them here last year without visual aid):
The vocal delivery is very deadpan, which is a classic trope of one-liner comedy, but lightened by a shy grin after each one. In some cases this is a necessity, given that some of his material is edgier than anything in Simmon’s set. Nolan is obviously influenced by Demetri Martin in how he constructs his jokes,[ii] but some of the jokes themselves would sound more appropriate coming from Frankie Boyle or Jimmy Carr. Nevertheless, the impression remains one of a cheeky young ‘un nudging at the boundaries of what we will accept, rather than an alpha figure striding confidently over the line.