A lot of people tell me they aren’t fans of stand-up comedy, only to finally be converted – my university lecturer only recently informed me of his rebirth as a Stewart Lee evangelist thanks to YouTube. I always respond with, ‘It’s like music. You just haven’t found a band you’ve liked yet.’
Occasionally, I find myself in a situation on par with a Metallica fan reviewing a Bieber concert. Surreal comedy is the vice (no not the medieval kind) of my choosing; I’m most entertained sat in a small, poorly lit cellar watching a hairy clown wave a miniature self-imaged puppet over my head.* It’s not hidden from friends that I don’t greatly admire mainstream observational comedy. But I do admire Ed Gamble.
‘I usually walk on stage, have some frothy banter with an audience member and then get on with my show.’ A polite man wanders onto stage, removing the microphone with a friendly greeting, takes a quick breath (or sniff, to be specific) and digs straight into the front row. His shovel could never be big-enough. A cold, Bristolian vent has just told the comic that he works as an escort. Further examination is not found to be possible with this defensive lump of a human. The next two bums on seats are online Viagra dealers.
It’s not an easy start for Gamble, or should I say Ed? Ed sounds friendlier. Anyway, Ed is stood way up high on a stage, taller than usual (built in 1873, The Lantern looks like the inside of a Cadbury’s Mis-Shape© , making for a much a better standing-only music venue) and the audience are like a glacier waiting to be broken.
Most comedians struggle to keep still onstage and Ed is no different, although his slow walk looks like he’s stuck in a snowstorm, or trying to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Yet, as soon as he releases some of his well-practiced material out on the West-Country crowd, I realise this metaphor does not match his act. He is very funny.
The first ‘bit’ is the classic ‘I have a girlfriend’ material, but different for two reasons. One: I am made to believe he could actually have a girlfriend. Two: he subverts your preconceptions – he is the tidy one and she the messy one. Misdirection makes up the bulk of his writing and, this evening, he is masterful at delivering his best, if not new, material. The first half is non-thematic, made up of mainly miscellaneous observations which is perhaps Ed testing the water. We are informally informed that the first half has finished – I would not have known without being told. However, this seems to be the norm for performing in The Lantern; earlier this year, Max and Ivan similarly performed mis-matched material, followed by their slicker sketches woven into a fringe-length second half.
At times, I thought I was watching Josh Widdicombe. Ed’s voice fluctuates on the right side of Michael McIntyre’s heightened camp used to get arenas laughing. He holds the microphone at its cable end like a septuagenarian holding his pipe, his other arm frozen in an artificial position. But Ed makes no effort to pretend he is someone else and is not afraid of looking ridiculous. He is not into rap music; he doesn’t know anything about the military; nor does he mind telling us about his penis surgery. (I imagine every review has taken the opportunity to mention Ed’s penis – not every comic gets that treatment.)
I would’ve liked to have seen Stampede during my stay in Edinburgh, though I’m not sure it would have tickled my funny-bone without a month’s run and fine-tuning. If the name, ‘Stampede’, was explained during the show, it blew right past me. ‘Cauliflower Pizza’ may have been more appropriate – and would sit earlier on in the alphabetically-ordered Edinburgh Fringe Guide.
Ed is conscious that the cauliflower recipe gets annoying. But this is intelligent! The use of placards, one-liners, quick-witted retorts, self-deprecation (and self-awareness) do seem like stampedes. Gamble has a magical ability to rework a joke more times than your average comic, almost to cater for every type of comedy-lover. His description of Pantomime Dwarves shouldering his penis in a doctor’s surgery is a Boosh-like metaphor.
There is audience participation and he does not care if he wins or loses, able to take the hit and mould it into a slapstick gag. He was told he sniffed too much and it became his reins for the evening. This being his first solo tour, it felt like he was trying out many different faculties of stand up – and why not?
Extended playing with the audience demonstrates his improv background with the Durham Revue. Something he doesn’t need to drop off his act: a posh boy persona – but owned rather than exaggerated.
Ed Gamble is honest, present and likeable. His weight loss seems to be the overarching theme to his show, but it is not forced down your throat. I am not watching a therapy session; this is live comedy with the crowd always in mind. After a scary start, he had 250 Bristolians in the palm of his hand.
A smaller man than expected, but ten times as funny. Observational? Yes. Boring? No.
Tagline: One sniff = One laugh. Guaranteed.
*if you haven’t heard of Paul Currie, check him out now.