Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Thom Tuck’s first solo show is strongly written, expertly performed, evocative stand-up about Disney and heartbreak. Poignant, idiotic and hilarious.
Thom Tuck goes Straight to DVD is the first solo show of comedy performer Thom Tuck, of the critically acclaimed sketch group The Penny Dreadfuls. This year, however, the Penny Dreadfuls have decided to all take solo shows up to the Fringe. As opposed to his fellow troupe members, who do character comedy (David Reed), and a one-man historical comedy play (Humphrey Ker), Tuck chose – for want of a better expression – stand-up comedy.
The main conceit of the show is that Tuck has watched all Straight to DVD Disney films so we don’t have to. As could be expected, this quest has made him “go a bit loopy”- if we can call a man sitting down, watching dozens of feature-length cartoons a quest, (I certainly believe we should). But there’s plenty of comedy to be had from this wilfully odd subject matter. Does that make this show generationally specific to those of us who grew up in the 90s? Perhaps. The crowd of mainly twentysomethings laps it up, though. But the sheer oddness of these films -and more importantly, Tuck’s performance- should be enough to get any crowd along, regardless of their relation with Disney.
As he came out, swiftly, from behind the curtain, Tuck took some time to establish himself and the story, telling us he doesn’t do any jokes (a flat-out lie), before he starts on the films. Tuck’s observations about rubbish Disney films often consisted of Tuck shouting out the peculiarity in an incredulous voice, with ever more absurd facial expression as the strangeness increases (he did make me want to watch The Lion King 3). This material is tried and tested and received a great response from an enthusiastic audience. But some of his observational comedy could be considered not observations per sé, but is more in the line of noticing stuff. Tuck, however, is very adept at noticing stuff, using slight facial movements or huge physical responses to the oddness of it all.
However, the true reasons for Tuck’s quest are not revealed until the last third of the show, keeping the audience on their toes throughout. These reasons come across as genuine without being schmaltzy and are phrased eloquently and -more importantly- using some brilliant jokes. His personal history is mined effectively, becoming the emotional through-line of Tuck’s failures with women that he loved -too often and too soon- with the heartbreaks that inevitably followed.
Tuck is also a director, having directed several comedians’ fringe shows this year, and it shows in the confidence and physical adroitness of his performance. The only thing even capable of upstaging this powerhouse performer is Tuck’s hair, which is a fascinating, ever-moving objet d’art all of itself. Tuck’s show could be described as stand-up comedy, since it shares many characteristics of the form, yet it is really a theatrical monologue with certain elements of stand-up taken in, such as audience interaction and the jokes being as important as the narrative progression.
It’s an unwritten rule, but the innate solipsism of stand-up requires the performer to do material about his/her own life and relation to the world. This performing of the personal can sit uncomfortably in other art forms, but stand-up allows (some say requires) brutal honesty. Thom Tuck goes all the way, brutally observing his own failures in love, and what seems to be genuine jealousy, regret and sadness. Sounds like a right laugh, and it is.
Tuck tells of his failings using great jokes and one of the most effortlessly amusing faces in the industry. Genre is never bad in itself, says Tuck, and he’s completely right. It felt like this is a story he needed to tell and stand-up is the only form he could tell it in. The emotional pay-off at the end is surprisingly downbeat, the opposite of all other stand-up on the fringe where the rule is to end on a high note. Although Tuck does have a curtain call where he got the entire audience to sing along to ‘Part of Your World’ from the Little Mermaid. Don’t forget to look at Tuck’s face during the singsong, because this man can outact a cartoon character. This show (only just) misses out on the five star rating, mainly because Tuck’s chosen subject is too wilfully obscure to go deeper, which I’m convinced he will do in the future. I’m looking forward to more stories of his own life. Maybe next year? I certainly hope Straight to DVD isn’t a one-off.