Two comics taking their stand-up in different directions, neither Jason Byrne and Gary Little can be accused of resting on their laurels. True, Byrne long ago found an effective formula of knockabout tomfoolery and audience participation. But the Irishman’s renewed zest for the prop comedy of his early career has reinvigorated the impression that any of his performances can feel like a unique event.
Jason Byrne is Propped Up ***
Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline
Gary Little – A Little Bit of Personal ***
For a storyteller like Little meanwhile, there are only so many yarns that you can share of your self-destructive behaviour before you have to acknowledge the mental health problems beneath. More and more stand-ups are talking openly about their depression. But the big Glaswegian is longer in the tooth and more established than many, taking a risk in asking his audience to come with him.
Although he often protests too much, Byrne is terrifically accomplished at making an audience feel both characterful and special, championing those he brings up on stage with him, even as he admonishes and despairs at their inability to comprehend his idiosyncratic demands. With a joyously crude puerility, he borrows from gameshows like Deal Or No Deal and Countdown to taunt and insult the most high-status man in the crowd, an army major no less. And typically, he graphically and gurningly recalls some bedroom antics with his long-suffering wife. But having recently written his childhood memoir, Adventures of a Wonky-Eyed Boy, he also offers some compelling snapshots of his Dublin upbringing. These in turn inspire some amusing clowning recreating his youthful struggles to remove wet swimming trunks from beneath a towel.
Boldly, Little makes the opening half of his show about his depression, though it’s a long way from a woe-is-me account. Indeed, it’s the murderous psychosis he harboured towards his former workmates, only partially tongue-in-cheek, that’s the initial draw. A level of honesty that carries on into his admission of the embarrassing side effects of his anti-depressants, it’s also leavened slightly by the amusing online wheeling and dealing it inspired when he found a new addiction in hillwalking. Culminating in the feelgood euphoria of the ABBA dance classes he took to help banish his black dog, these richly detailed tales are all the funnier for the darkness remaining round the edges.
Still developing and maturing as a comic at 53, if Little can elicit the same rate of laughs and be as comfortable as he is with the more tried and tested material he delivers in the second half – about the perils of the dating scene for a man his age; a rascally account of sneaking his way into America and a bit of imaginative filth – then he could take his comedy to another level. Time and again he’s shown that he can smash any club night and that he’s got a tremendous stock of anecdotes to draw from. But he’s edging towards more contemplative, vulnerable and focused shows that linger longer in the memory.