Mark Bibby Jackson reviews Connor Burns at the Soho Theatre London, part of the Scottish comedian’s Vertigo tour.
It is not often that I come home from a comedy gig thinking of King Lear, but such was my state of mind on the Elizabeth Line on Thursday night. Or more accurately I found myself contemplating the role of the Fool. For those of you unfamiliar with the Shakespearean tragedy, the Fool points out to the mad king the folly of his ways. In effect, the role of court jester allows him to tell Lear how things are, which more prudent courtiers cannot.
Such, in many ways is the role of the current stand-up comic. Questioning social norms that have been established and, in many ways, unchallenged under the veil of humour. It is a role that Connor Burns adopts in his current show Vertigo at the Soho Theatre.
No subject seems taboo for the Scottish comedian. This is no easy ride, nor I suspect is it intended to be. The audience is unsure whether to laugh or to feel outrage as the quick witted Burns takes on the disabled, the male role in the female orgasm, lesbians, Millennials and the Welsh. Oscar Pistorius, Stephen Hawking and even the McCanns become the butt of his humour. As my friend observed at the end of the evening, the result was pretty much 50/50 between squirm and laughter.
What cannot be denied is the polished nature of the performance. Burns controls the audience. You feel he has played tougher gigs than the Soho Theatre. Hecklers are dealt with swiftly as the audience becomes part of the act. The carefully scripted routine flows naturally but has a clear narrative which ends pretty much where it begins with the comedian turning the focus of the humour onto himself and his family. The vertigo of the title refers to an episode Burns’ father suffered.
A great mimic of accents, Burns also provides some killer lines and shows great improv skills especially when a glass of water takes on almost demonic powers. His comic timing and sense of the audience’s reaction to his act are excellent.
Vertigo is the comedian’s debut national tour, and follows on from his great success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
While the humour may be too close to the knuckle for some in the audience, it is the self-reflective nature of the humour that makes the show more palatable. Burns is as comfortable mocking his own sexual inadequacy as he is people with disabilities.
Ultimately, despite the comedian’s own confession that there is no point to his humour, Burns is adopting a role that is centuries’ old. He might not be serving some mad old king, but he does pose questions as to the nature of our own society, and as such there is a distinct point to his humour, however discomforting it might feel to some.
Connor Burns Vertigo Tour
Connor Burns’ Vertigo tour is travelling around the UK until 24 March, 2024. Details of the gigs can be found here.