Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Alien Of Extraordinary Ability claims to address Lampaert’s Franco-English upbringing and how his move to the US makes him feel like a citizen of everywhere and nowhere.
Eric Lampaert does not need my endorsement. Since I first saw him at a festival some years ago, rampaging through the audience, destroying the set and bullying children whilst never being anything other than a man-child himself it was obvious he had a niche all of his own. Since then he has gone on to making commercials with Bruce Willis, several movies and now he resides in LA. His face has been used, without permission, to advertise Brazilian concrete. Eric Lampaert does not need my endorsement.
His past shows have often dealt with his French roots (he lived there until he was 12) and how difficult it was to avoid negative attention when he came to Britain. However – this is Lampaert. Well-rehearsed and careful scripting is not going to stop him occasionally running off on wild enthusiastic tangents and hilarious banter with the front row.
The queue to get into the underground venue in the City Café was already considerable half an hour before the show was due to start and many found themselves turned away as the room was packed. Seating everyone was a chaotic experience in which Lampaert himself took a role with a manic wide-eyed dance.
The show began with a short video of Lampaert being interviewed by Mulder and Scully characters about his status, a cutaway that would be used several times. Unlike some inserts which appear to be hastily thrown-together afterthoughts, these were professional and genuinely funny.
As he took to the stage we were warned it would get incredibly hot and this was no exaggeration. One fixed spotlight gave off a huge amount of heat and, mixed with the low ceiling (Lampaert’s head was almost touching it at times), it did become physically trying as the hour progressed. Even air seemed in short supply. To a point, this close atmosphere added to the experience – we were trapped in Eric’s world for now. Given his later references to ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ (and a place where you couldn’t possibly believe he would go – but does) this seems fitting.
His banter with the audience is anarchic. He exploits the ancient formula of talking to them at the start by choosing not to come up with honed and ultimately unrewarding one-liners based on their responses. He will respond with no barriers but – and this is his secret – he is the naughty overactive boy in the class with bags of charm and no malice. It’s impossible for him to actually offend you although he takes some of his responses to outrageous extremes. His childlike (and childish) hyperactivity is a controlled explosion.
Thankfully, he spares us too much on current affairs and Brexit, dispensing with his material on the subjects very quickly. Instead, he starts to pick on his family, his American wife, and himself. You feel they could be sitting in front of him when he comes out with these shocking comments and they too would be close to pain with the laughter.
The routine progresses onto the subject of sex and Viagra and he chooses to pick on a couple in the front row. The fact they had their early-teenage son sitting with them (who, thankfully, found it hilarious) was irrelevant. It may, in fact, have made the banter more likely. Both were shuddering with laughter as Lampaert asked them intimate questions and mock-threatened them when they interrupted.
He concluded with a routine about literal aliens and in particular the record ‘The Sounds Of Earth’ sent into space with Voyager 1 in 1977. He shows us some of the pictures encoded on this record and plays some of the incomprehensible sound clips and we all have to wonder just what impression we were trying to give the Universe in 1977.
The show overruns but we still wanted more.
I am a big fan of Lampaert’s unscripted rants at audience members and how he leaves his main act behind to descend into chaos. I have seen him perform for half an hour without relying on any of his routines. People have left in fear and bewilderment, but many have been converted to his unique approach. When working within the strict confines of a set period of time and in a tightly-packed room, however, he does not have so much opportunity to fly into dangerous territory but, when those moments come, audience members (certainly this one) can be almost screaming in delight. Thankfully, his material for this show is stronger than anything I have seen him do before and so the few minutes of anarachy we get are enough.
Eric Lampaert does not need my endorsement. He has it anyway.