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FringeReview UK 2015

Donald Robertson Is Not A Stand-Up Comedian

Gary McNair

Genre: Comedy, Stand-Up, Theatre

Venue: The Old Market, Hove


Low Down

What would you do if everyone in the world hated you? Would you run? Would you fight? Or would you try to make them laugh?

Donald Robertson has no mates and he isn’t funny. But with guidance from his new mentor Gary, he hopes that this is all about to change.

Writer/performer Gary McNair’s acclaimed monologue weaves a classic coming-of-age story with a pinpoint deconstruction of the darker side of stand-up comedy. Donald Robertson Is Not A Stand-Up Comedian was an award-winning sell-out hit at the Traverse Theatre at last year’s Edinburgh Festival. Directed by Gareth Nicholls.


The theatre is set up like a comedy club. Or, more accurately, like a cartoon of a comedy club, complete with a fake brick wall and orange lampshades above us. And a man comes on stage and does about as well as anyone could do at being awkward and terrible at stand-up.

It’s a bold start, and it gets my attention straight away. The following show is only just over an hour long, but holds me completely. It’s a balancing act between being a poignant piece of theatre about bullying and stand-up comedy about stand-up comedy.

Gary McNair is explaining the unusual story of his tutelage of loser Donald Robertson in the ways of being funny. Along the way he deftly deconstructs the art of making a joke, often making asides to the audience to explain what he’s doing and why. I liked these in particular, and could have sat for more.

McNair is a compelling stage presence, and easily captivates the audience. Occasionally we are wrong-footed by the sudden changes between comedy and talking-about-comedy, and it’s not completely obvious how much audience-participation is expected, but ultimately McNair is composed enough that this doesn’t matter.

My only criticism would be that the show is, in some particular ways, a little mild. Dealing with the issue of bullying, McNair’s character frequently explains that in comedy you either kill or be killed. He refers to killing a lot. But in the end, the taunting of his characters is just that; taunting. If the jibes had sharper teeth I would have felt a stronger sense of pathos and empathy with young Donald.

However, this is at the end of the day a personal preference, and the fact that I could’ve taken my mother-in-law to watch this without feeling like I was dumbing down is itself an accomplishment.

This remains a well-acted, beautifully-crafted piece of theatre, which kept me watching, kept me laughing, and kept me happy on a horrible, rainy night.