You want the truth? You can’t handley the truth!
Cowgate, Room Up Two M, Edinburgh,
Aug 6-27. Approximately 30 minutes
In our post-fact world where we drown in other people’s opinions, life as a hard-up, stand-up comedian trying to make a name has got harder.
And on the Free Fringe periphery of the Edinburgh Fringe – where artists effectively busk in a tatty room with a few uncomfortable seats and a bucket for contributions as there is no formal entrance free – it has become an even more extreme act of faith.
Over after-show drinks, when his company turned out to be every bit as modest and good-natured as during his act, Jay Handley, a carpenter-turned-comedian from Birmingham, airs the view he has formed on the comic circuit that we’re helter-skeltering away from comedy of opinion and towards absurdity and clowning because Twitter digests every possible event within hours and spits out every possible view on it.
No room is left for a comic’s assessment and so for now the profession is exploring as material the deeply and darkly personal, in itself a comment on our narcissistic age. From there, it’s a short hop to the absurd.
The truth according to Jay Handley lies in the zone between absurdity and subjective opinion and despite the challenge of Twitter, he dares to venture a few gently left-leaning political views, all smoothly woven into a half hour slot that breezes by.
His flyer tells us: “Look at this man. He has the answers to life, love, happiness, health, wealth, religion and all of society’s problems. And that’s why his girlfriend left him…”
His flowing chestnut locks also mean he bears a resemblance to Jesus, which, after a few self-deprecating remarks on the inelegance of the venue, is how his show begins.
It can’t be the first routine based on the inappropriateness or otherwise of people’s names but Handley makes it his own.
Of course his mother didn’t actually christen him Jesus because she couldn’t have known he’d grow up to look like him. If babies were christened according to their looks, wouldn’t they all be named Ian Hislop? Handley asks in perhaps a reference to one of his comic influences.
Adding to the Jesus similarity, Handley – in his based-on-truth show that leaves us constantly trying to distinguish the man from the comic persona – really was a carpenter until the economic downturn struck.
Whether he has in real life just been dumped by his girlfriend is unclear, but we’re willing to suspend our disbelief as he confesses how she brought out aspects of his personality he didn’t know he had and now he is left alone, tailored only for her; “a bespoke person”. Like a house, he needs to be repainted in magnolia or he’ll only put off anyone thinking of moving in.
And then he agonises over why she went. She said she loved him, he made her so happy but she inexplicably had to go – in other words he was Brexited, he says, in a joke destined to resound in Europhile Edinburgh, where a vote to leave is entirely irrational as far as most people are concerned.
In another political foray that will hopefully remain funny and not become a painful reality, he looks to the privatisation of the NHS and to a time when we might be facing a Mc-Heartbypass, ironically a cure from the maker of the kind of fast food blamed for the problem.
The rival provider could be Ryancare, when a trumpet would be sounded every time someone doesn’t die.
So far, Handley’s territory is ground most of us broadly speaking can occupy.
He pulls us towards the absurd and surreal with his Glastonbury tales of a Liverpudlian robber who draws the line at theft from tents, but sees stealing from warehouses as a victimless crime. Over ecstasy tablets and chords from Handley’s synthesiser, they explore whether chickens or eggs came first. The answer is either neither or that it doesn’t matter and in the synthetised, ecstasy haze, it’s very hard to tell.
We return to mundane reality, more or less, with tales of Handley’s cat, who just as his girlfriend left him, inevitably dies. In his deeply, madly personal revelation mode, he counts up how many times he has watched his cat wash his bottom during his life and has the revelation that the cat’s dying thought was that he never saw his master wash his. It’s a low-level joke, but the audience erupted and cheerfully tossed generous notes, not coins, into the big red plastic bucket on the way out.
Barbara Lewis © 2016.