FringeReview UK 2022
The multi-award-winning Russell Kane brings his gut-punch funny, searing, award-winning take on the two years we’ve just gone through. Hailed as The Guardian’s Number 1 comedy performance to come out of 2020 (The Guardian are miserable and usually hate everything) – this high-octane show brings nuclear-energy belly laughs and pant-wetting observations which prove laughter really is the best medicine* (*actually, it’s probably hospital medicine).
COVID was devasting for the performing arts industry. Without warning, the Government cancelled all live performances, and no one knew when they would restart. Lockdown decimated incomes, wrecked plans and turned lives upside down. While, for many, it was a tragedy, for Russell, it proved to be the genesis of his next tour show.
Tonight’s show was Russell’s first visit to Eastbourne, something that provided much of his opening material. Faced with an audience primarily in their 40s and 50s, they were younger than he was expecting.
The show is in two parts. First up was Elliot Steel, the tour support.
Elliot Steel is from South London, in his mid-twenties, and a martial arts fan. He arrives on stage in a loose-fitting Ralph Lauren shirt, jeans and trainers. He looks and sounds like a bit of a lad, someone at home on the terrace at Crystal Palace.
This history reflects in his comedy style. The initial impression is of a young lad, a bit aggressive, in your face and confrontational. He fits a stereotype; whether this is intentional is unclear.
If you went on first impressions, it would be easy to underestimate Elliot’s comedic talent. He is confident, accomplished and very clever. His observations are sharp. The structure of his set flows together, sticking to clear themes, and his delivery skills are excellent.
In selecting Elliot as his tour support, Russell has made an astute choice. For those unfamiliar with Russell’s history, he makes much of his council estate origins, the people he grew up around and the struggle to get more out of life.
Elliot does an excellent job of foreshadowing the show to come. Just to be clear, Elliott is not a copy of Russell, but there are similarities in the themes they discuss; class, culture and living in every moment would be good examples. It primes the audience nicely.
Although I was not there to review Elliot’s show, it is worth noting that he is a rising star. A talented comedian with much to say and one to be watched. If he’s on a bill, go and see him.
Now, for the main event. Russell Kane.
One way to describe Russell Kane is as a fizzing ball of lightning in human form. He bounds onto the stage dressed in skinny black jeans, a black tee shirt and a black jacket, radiating energy and life in every movement. He dances, prances and leaps from one side to the other.
Within a minute, the audience is sitting up and paying attention. He is wise-cracking, joke-telling, and insulting. The first target is Eastbourne, being provocative and funny in equal measure, and the stereotypes about the town are a fertile hunting ground.
Russell quickly establishes that audience interaction is a vital part of the show. Asking questions, bringing in different people and improvising complex scenarios gives his comedy a sense of daring. There is always the chance he may fail. That said, it’s difficult to imagine such a talent lost for words; it’s like watching an experienced magician pull off a risky, complicated and baffling trick.
He peppers his material with exciting language and obscenely graphic images, but it is never insulting or demeaning. The audience responses act as prompts for prepared routine or improvisation, and it is almost impossible to tell which is which.
What is notable is how he uses his incredible physicality to enhance his performance. Without a spare ounce of fat and the lithesome movement of a ballet dancer, you can’t take your eyes off of him. One minute leaping and gliding, next a pirouette before rolling around on the floor. Such exuberance means he delivers everything with a breathless undertone.
In line with some Laws of Physics, this incredible energy doesn’t dissipate into the empty space above our heads; instead, it fuels the audience, and they become caught up in the show. It’s contagious, and they are alert, attentive and laughing.
As for the material, he uses the opening section to riff on the audience, bringing them into the show and making it feel like we are hanging out with a slightly mental, hyperactive mate.
There are recurring themes, those of class and expectation, that underpin much of the material. However, there is more depth than the first analysis would suggest. We got an up-to-date Kaneing on the current political situation. It was insightful, well thought out, savage and well-received by the audience.
He talks about wealth and the lack of it, career, council estates, university, and the difficulties of being young and old; the woke and easily offended get a Kaneing too. He mixes longer-form stories, short puns and wickedly funny barbs. Occasionally he is delightfully obscene.
As much as he pretends to be apolitical, politics are running through his material, although it is unclear where his particular allegiances lie. Whilst you may disagree with his stance on specific issues, they are well thought out and entertainingly presented.
When he moves on to COVID, the show’s central theme, he offers a different perspective and reminds us about what we lost and what we gained. He talks about societal norms, culture and what changed. There is philosophy, psychology and scathing wit. Russell, despite his protestations, is no simple clown.
He demonstrates an impressive memory during the show, calling back to earlier names and conversations. Often, the audience has forgotten these elements until he reminds us of them.
Russell is a very skilled performer who knows what he is doing and does it very well.
One example of this is in the pacing of the show. Here, we are in the hands of a comedy conductor. The jokes come in waves. When he catches one, the delivery speeds up as jokes roll over you, one after the other. The result is that the audience is left breathless because they are laughing so much. You could hear the gasping as it rolled around the room; it’s quite a skill. The last comic I saw who did something similar was Dave Gorman.
In short, go and see Russell Kane. He is a very experienced comedian at the top of his game. He uses incredible energy and physicality to deliver very funny material about life in all its endless variety. He jokes and interacts with his audience, but never in a way that makes them feel put upon. He seamlessly mixes improv and prepared routines before finishing with a message of hope. Well-thought-out stories, observations, sharp punchlines and immaculate delivery bring it all together. It is comedy with its sharp pointy elbows out. In short, Russell Kane is brilliant and Highly Recommended.