Brendon Burns: Hasn't Heard Of You Either
I first saw Brendon Burns in February, opening at a packed Astor for the famous wrestler Mick Foley. The crowd that day consisted almost entirely of wrestling fans. The tour, Brendon Burns says, has made him into a “secret handshake”. While he's well known as a “wrestling comedian” and among certain circles in the British comedy circuit (he has Ricky Gervais' number, but that's where his relationship with the British comic hierarchy ends), he doesn't have broad enough appeal to fill even a “fucking bowls club” in his home town of Perth.
The opening performance of I Haven't Heard of you Either, at a half-full Jack High Room in the Mt Lawley Bowls Club, was the first attempt at a new set aimed to introduce himself to a new audience. Literally introduce himself even: The svelte 50 minute set is framed as a mock Cracked listicle, five reasons that Brendon Burns after two decades as a comedian is still, in his own words, “unfamous”. The brilliance of this framework is the way that a seemingly simple concept, an introduction to the particular idiosyncracies and quirks that have made it hard for him to become popular, blossoms into a full-scale look at the meaning and intention of comedy itself.
“No. 4: Some people find me offensive.” He doesn't do it because it's offensive though. At least that isn't his intention. He does it because people find it surprising. He makes a point (and this is where the piece becomes more complex) of calling bullshit on people who claim to enjoy certain types of humour “ironically”. He has a defined vision of what comedy is that extends beyond punchlines and informs a broad sweeping narrative. And if you thought otherwise, he'll let you know that you're a fucking moron (he's great with hecklers).
The centre of the narrative, taking up the larger part of his set, is his recent diagnosis as a partial hearing disabled person (check the title of the show, wink wink pun pun). This becomes a dialogue about the use of humour about and for the disabled. Is it now OK for him to use the word “spastic”? Can he goad people into laughing through the element of surprise? Will they be stuck up pricks and refuse to acknowledge when he tells an incisive joke about pretending to be disabled with impeccable timing simply because they find it unconscionable? Even when he sits down to read a related passage from one of his books, or plays a clip where he bungles a TV appearance making excuses for Ricky Gervais' “Mongate” (a little overlong, to be honest), the audience was in the palm of his hands, laughing on cue when he prodded them and pausing for reflection when he intended to inspire deeper thought.
Although this may all seem a bit heavy for a comedy show (though why shouldn't comedy be used to investigate bigger issues), it's almost seamless unless Burns calls attention to it. He has a fine sense of self-deprecation and pathos that allows you to empathise with him despite the seemingly awful things he says – at one point he calmly points out what it would be like if he called a middle-aged woman in the front row a “motherfucker” and what the image of her licking out her elderly mother would visually look like.
Burns is a comedian with the ability to string an entire skit from a heckle or one-liner, but whose focus remains on the bigger picture of what he's trying to say. All of this show is new except for a one-liner about Brits being fans of “covert racism” that he pulled out at his February appearance also. He's consistently hilarious, regardless of whether you are among his wrestling fanbase that Burns gives clever nods to at various parts of the show, or you're uninitiated and simply like being surprised into laughter at inappropriate moments. Just remember not to heckle him, or you'll get exactly what you paid for.
Josh ChiatBrendon Burns performs at the Jack High Room every night until Saturday the 18th of May. Doors open 6:45pm for a 7pm start. Tickets can be bought here.