Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Tony Law and Phil Nichol bring the latest chapter in their self-improvement programme, with reasonably priced merchandise, to the Fringe. They just want to put their ideas out there and have us get them!
When booking a Tony Law show, you start with the basic assumption that whatever the title is, the resultant performance will be something completely different. Yet again, this is the case.
The show’s premise is that the audience are attending the next chapter in their Self-Improvement seminar/cult induction. The aim of the course is to reprogram negative thinking, expunge hate and proceed upon the path to enlightenment, self-actualisation and the owning of potentially valuable, but expensive merchandise.
An unusual basis for a comedy show. Particularly as the British view American self-improvement programmes, prevalent in corporate and religious cultures, as having enough self-parody to be funny. Everyone has seen a Louis Theroux documentary.
However, in this case the seminar is being hosted by Tony Law and Phil Nichol. Nothing is going to be what you expect.
The show is heavy on audience interaction, whether we are singing, dancing or chanting. The mental deprogramming, dancing, strange songs and bursts of anarchic humour are fun.
The boys appear to have developed an overall framework, plotted the big sections and written some stuff, but some elements are best described as free form streams of consciousness. This allows them to improvise.
The problem with this is it can lead to a mixed bag of funny. But the pleasure of a Tony Law gig is not knowing what’s going to work and what won’t. I can’t comment on Phil Nichol as a solo performer, not having seen him before.
What’s clear is that these two get on very well together. There’s a real feeling of this being two old friends meeting up and messing about. The audience can see a careful watchfulness as each performer wonders “What’s that idiot going to do next?”
There is a definite impression that they are trying to outperform each other. They are engaged in male ‘banter’ in the way that long-standing male friendships enjoy dropping each other in it, at every opportunity. What are friends for, if you can’t stitch them up?
During such a random performance mistakes appeared to have been made. Whether scripted or not, they looked and felt real, and the performers clearly took joy in pointing these errors out. In a traditional comedy show, such chaotic mishaps would be disastrous, in this case they become part of the fun.
Initially, the audience sat in stunned quiet but gradually, as they come to understand the joke and the humour and appreciate the performers relationship, they warmed to the show. By the end they’ve completely bought into it and are applauding, cheering and whooping as appropriate.
This show is not going to appeal to everyone, honestly, it won’t. If you like seeing a regular stand up, with regular jokes, telegraphed punchlines and a story about how hard it was growing up, this is not the show for you.
If you like the idea of a comedy show with unpredictability, chaos, unexpected fun, surprise and a little anarchy then it is. It’s a good show; experimental, fun, teetering on the bring of failure and what a Fringe show should be about.