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Rhys James: Wiseboy review

| Comedy | 05/09/2017


Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

A sharply written tongue-in-cheek take on white privilege from the young master of pithy comedy.

Anyone following Rhys James on Twitter will attest that few comedians package their observational comedy quite so pithily.  While some complain how social media’s devalued the profession, opening the door for the world and its dog to dabble in satire, the Mock The Week occasional uses it to hone his retorts on big news items and day-to-day occurrences – essential panel show practice.  These skills translate to his live material, with 2016 show Forgives being one the tightest-written around.  And in Wiseboy, the son of Harpenden delivers another densely-packed show ironically bemoaning his comfortable, privileged existence.

Its main theme is we shouldn’t trust anyone – not our families, friends and certainly not the internet.  James’ parents feature heavily, initially in audio grabs from his Radio 4 show in which they express surprise at his success as a comedian.  This gives him to platform to wreak revenge, mainly targeting his mother with a well-balanced mix of puerile and intelligent lines (“She asked my to buy her some bath stuff, so I got her a toaster”).  James’ relationship with his father is addressed with more nuance, expressing remorse for giving up the drums the second his dad said he’d learn the guitar so they could jam together, before amusingly revealing his father’s ulterior motive.

James segues smoothly into other relationships, turning to another ‘my girlfriend’s cheating on me’ routine – replacing last year’s talking parrot with a memory foam mattress – and a story about his housemate’s shower methods, essentially a vehicle for audience participation and an amusing video of close friend Adam Hess drying himself with a glove.  He also returns to the generational divide, bravely given the mixed ages of his Fringe audience, neatly assuaging his guilt over not helping a middle-aged homeless man by blaming the latter for inflating property prices and minimising James’ disposable income.

But the most thoughtful segment of the show focuses on the viral raccoon and candy floss video, which James describes as “Bambi’s mum for Generation Meme”.  He ekes some great material out of this cutesy six-second clip, penning a pair of well-observed fables from either side of the political spectrum – each attacking BBC bias – before using it to reveal one of his own insecurities in a rare moment of candour.  “It’s just so relatable.  You know, the raccoon could easily be a 26-year-old comedian and the candy floss could be 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.”

One criticism is that James could take more risks with his material.  But while he’s young, middle-class and healthy, he’s reluctant to take on more profound matters.  As he put it succinctly during our interview earlier this year, “who wants to hear the political opinions of a 25-year-old white man who’s never experienced anything?”  And when his speed of delivery and jokes per minute remain so impressive, it’s a harsh stick to beat him with.

Rhys James performed ‘Wiseboy’ at the Edinburgh Fringe during August at Pleasance Courtyard.  See his official website or follow him on Twitter @rhysjamesy for details of his next London shows, including a set at The Tommyfield alongside Nick Helm on 17th September (tickets here).

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