REVIEW: Iain Sterling @ The Stand (01.03.16) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s not immediately obvious, when Iain Stirling initially appears onstage, whether his apparent nerves are genuine or just part of his act. As he rambles and stop-starts his way through his first 20 minutes of material before his main show, what was probably initially an act grows increasingly real. His attempt at a ‘cynicism that’s nevertheless warm’ is at a bit of a disconnect, with the audience tittering along when he seems to expect chortles. Perhaps it’s because his material about bridging the gap between being on kids’ TV and doing a stand up isn’t as relatable as he’d hoped. Perhaps his warm-cynicism schtick doesn’t come off as effortless as he’d hoped. Perhaps jokes about punching/flicking babies’ heads isn’t so edgy now that pretty much everyone’s been there, done that. In any case, as he breaks for the interval before his main set, his audience are left pretty much in the same mood as they arrived in – what photographers are said to refer to as ‘neutral positive’; as if they’d just spent 20 minutes modelling a coat for H&M as opposed to watching a fairly successful comedian perform material he considered pretty reliable.

His main set, his show Touchy Feely from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, feels like an hour- long version of more of the same. The audience seem about 70% sold on him – they reckon he’s a good guy, they empathise with him, they want to like him and generally do, just not as much as both he and they wish. There’s a lot of fairly standard observational stuff, written and executed perfectly adequately, covering things like mates having babies, having a Fitbit and Britain First. A lot of this is well trodden comic ground, and his own observations add very little to what already exists. His material on emojis is particularly tiresome, as he joins the dozens of comedians who lament the evolution of language that is both natural and inevitable, in an attempt to come across as the tedious hipster stereotype of an ironic old fart when he’s such a young dude.

That’s not to say there’s nothing here though; lots of his add-ons and some of his punchlines are really funny, like when he talks about younger men treating women’s pubic hair like a spider, telling them “it’s more scared of you than you are of it”. His material about the differences between male and female behaviour is often surprisingly good, too; it’s refreshing to see a male comic speak of female behaviour sympathetically and of femaleness as enviable. He never does explain the title, but it’s presumably a reference to this material, which discusses the issue of men being expected not to talk about their feelings, or indeed really have them, an issue that does need talking about. However, it also makes it all the more jarring to hear him use phrases like “in trouble with the missus”. It’s frustrating too, because there’s just enough properly funny stuff here for it to feel like Iain Stirling has potential, that Touchy Feely, on the whole, just doesn’t fulfill.

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