Venue: Gilded Balloon
Though sometimes seeming eternally doomed to be an on-call panel-filler for the BBC, fulfilling the essential role of the wacky and world-weary one in the Mock The Week pantomime, the dependable Ed Byrne takes a hard-earned centre stage as one of the Fringe’s 2015 headline names.
Outside Looking In isn’t the concept-heavy morality lecture or state-of-the-nation finger waggle its title might suggest, but rather a clean and simple observational set of classic comedy territory; failing and ailing relationships, family life, medical mortification and bad drivers all feature. In the sea of avant-gardism and hidden meanings of the Fringe, such a selection slides mercifully down without a struggle, yet there’s still plenty to get your teeth into, including some astute ruminations on gender and misogyny bookended by belly laughs.
Byrne opens with a brilliantly gutsy story littered with knife-sharp punchlines about a gig gone horribly wrong for a cohort of financial forecasters. ‘I’m sorry – did I cause a global financial crisis?’ he recounts saying to a banker type serving him the stink-eye. It’s just one example of Byrne’s unique ability to touch upon politics without jumping in feet first and getting stuck too deeply. Much of his comedic gravitas comes from a juxtaposed boyishness, be it observing the adult world with a simple childlike wit or telling stories of his kids with a parental cynicism, and it explains his success in joking about sexual politics without getting too bogged down.
The hour is a consecutive slew of strong moments, with occasionally bitter and always very clever material on the make or break moment of a date and failing to get a vasectomy, and there’s an excellent, warmly delivered concluding sequence spent defending the honour of his son against nursery school bullies. The best gag of the show is an addition to the mountain of UKIP-orientated observation, but it goes straight to the top of the pile. ‘UKIP is not a rascist party,’ Bryne says. ‘There’s nothing inherently rascist about it. But you might have noticed that lots of vegetarians gravitate towards the Green Party. That’s all I’m saying’.
Bryne doesn’t have the big name value of Dara O’Brien or Michael MacIntyre, and he makes the most of it, surprising and surpassing in his freedom from the weight of expectation. As intelligent, every-man comedy goes, he’s one of the best.