Comedy / Performance Show, Underbelly Cowgate, Venue 61, 19:20 until 30th August.
Paul Foot is a Fringe and comedy stalwart whose unmistakeable physical and verbal style will not only leave audiences bewildered but also leave them utterly in stitches by the end of the hour. His unique brand of joke- and story-telling, coupled with his over-the-top stutter and fidgety movement all over the stage, is not to be missed. Yet this time round did not make for wholly comfortable viewing. What started off as a belter of a show of ridiculous gags and stories went downhill after part of his routine came to hinge on a grossly cultural appropriative scenario.
In this year’s eponymously-titled Fringe show, we are treated first to three (or four, depending on how you count) hilarious stories. The first is a woman with a cheese collection which has an unused branch line of a railway track going through it, which is undercut with some beautiful tangents about growing prize cucumbers and getting the sunlight-rain ratio correct. We are then treated to an anecdote about Linda McCartney sausages ruining a children’s birthday party in which Foot puts on some ridiculous high-pitched voices, followed by a story about an angel breaking their wing in heaven. With these routines, Foot does what he does best – take some seemingly mundane scenarios, exaggerate their importance completely, and make them laugh-out loud funny through a combination of his strange physicality, verbal tics and perfect comedic timing.
The final half-hour was where the let-down was. The long routine about how to take revenge on a bed-and-breakfast landlady started off perfectly, with absurd and quite specific examples of how to evade small talk and get your own back by refusing to eat breakfast (which is, as Foot points out, your right as a paying customer). Yet an enormous chunk of the gag hinged on acting out a ‘themed nightmare’ on the woman for ten days, in this case appropriating native American culture for the sake of a joke. That a ‘red Indian’ was the theme of the nightmare made for very uncomfortable listening and viewing as a historically oppressed culture’s dress and appearance was used simply for the butt of an increasingly cruel joke. This joke indeed culminated in Foot acting out the landlady’s breakdown and begging for mercy in a somewhat self-aware fashion, but implied repentance for stalking and terrorising a woman in this scenario did not make up for the cultural appropriation which it hinged on. Perhaps if Foot had critiqued the native American ‘themed nightmare’ rather than just use it for cheap laughs, he might have been forgiven, but in the end the routine was a gross let-down.
Foot remains unmistakeable in his comic genius, and his eccentric story-telling and stage mannerisms are a sight to behold. He is definitely one of the finest comedians at the Fringe and he certainly knows how to use his art: it’s just a shame that in this year’s offering, his art relied on exploiting the culture and stereotypes of a historically maligned group.