If this is to be Stewart Francis’ last tour, as he maintains, the Canadian deserves great credit for freshening up the one-liner genre in the UK. Often seen as the preserve of the deadpan, he brings big, performative silliness and sly invention to the craft of gag-telling, playing all sorts of tricks with callbacks, visual punchlines, alternative endings and sound cues, achieving variety, originality and an impressive density of solid gold jokes with his playful tweaking of conventions.
Stewart Francis: Into the Punset, Paisley Town Hall ***
Truth be told, though, this wasn’t vintage Francis. Paisley Town Hall’s high roof sucks up laughter too quickly for a performer like him to build the rhythm, rapport and looseness he seeks, with the chuckles dissipating swiftly into silence. As a result, he showed flashes of insecurity, asking the crowd if they’d understood certain jokes, over-explaining others. Certainly he wasn’t challenging the idea that he might have grown weary of live performance.
Nevertheless he repeatedly displayed the formidable wit that can make him such a savourable delight. Like Milton Jones, he has endless relatives, seemingly for any scenario. And by the end, he was smashing running jokes into one another – even if one, about his inappropriate conclusion of a therapy session, proved more satisfying than a famous newsreader’s recurring appearances.
Creaking under its contrivance as this show did, though, it’s worth recalling that it began with a couple of deliciously harsh, luridly brilliant lines about the Kennedy assassination. And somewhat touchingly, come the encore, Francis alluded to the signature routine that made his name when he broke through in this country. - JAY RICHARDSON