Edinburgh Fringe 2011
This is an hour of honest, thoughtful and energetic comedy which will challenge perceptions and warm hearts.
One glance at Jim Smallman confirms he is not a Military Tattoo fanatic, as may be surmised from a show here in Edinburgh, but he is instead a fan of getting inked. The name of his show is even tattooed across his stomach. Ouch. But taking one glance and then making a judgment about Smallman is what his show is all about, and I certainly took away some lessons about jumping to conclusions. It’s an endearing look at the kinds of opinions and assumptions he faces daily on account of the colourful pictures adorning his arms, and it’s quite a fascinating look at people’s reactions to Smallman, who is in many ways a complex and intriguing individual.
His show is broken into headings, according to real-life quotes from the good senior ladies who listen to BBC Leicester (at which Smallman is a presenter), when asked to judge a photograph of Smallman with his tattoos on display. Using the jumping-off point of the occasionally prejudiced assumptions people make on account of his ink habit, he delves into his relationship history (bad track record) issues with drugs and alcohol (reformed alcoholic), and struggles with balanced mental health. But then, more surprisingly, the fact that he was once an English teacher (I think his classes would have been pretty entertaining), and his relationships with his young daughter (there are some genuinely very touching moments as he talks about her) and with his mum and dad.
I found his show more compelling due to Smallman’s personal history than his jokes. It was certainly funny and highly enjoyable, but mostly I felt that I was part of a conversation with a really fascinating individual. The stories he relates are varied and absorbing, and all have an air of honesty without the whiff of comedy-as-confessional.
While not uproarious, this is a solid festival offering and you won’t be disappointed. Introspective comedy is a difficult line to tread, but Smallman manages not to trip over into gut-spilling. He keeps it brisk and energetic, and leaves his audience with something worth thinking about.