Edinburgh Festival 2011: Andrew Lawrence: The best-kept secret in comedy

Andrew Lawrence: The best-kept secret in comedy****

Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar. 8pm

I confess, I’m a slightly picky character when it comes to comedy. I don’t like artists who rehash, in truly uninspiring fashion, comedy memes from decades past. I don’t like performers who are clearly angling, with their festival show, for a 7.30pm slot on Saturday night telly. I don’t like comedians who play safe.

Andrew Lawrence is not safe.

Andrew Lawrence does not fit the profile of a Saturday night family entertainer.

Andrew Lawrence is, instead, the authentic master of the rant. He is the man who can say a dreadful thing, a thing which revels in cruelty and unchecked venom. He is the man who can make that venomous pronouncement not simply funny, but darkly, cacklingly hilarious.

This is the fourth year I’ve been coming to see Mr Lawrence at the Fringe. He’s like an addiction. Darkness will do that to a certain kind of audience – and Lawrence is certainly unrivalled in that respect.

I wept with black laughter as he enacted one of his signature imagined dialogues, in which he speculated on the horrible, horrible things that might happen to people who text during his shows.

Last year, Andrew made his pitch at the big time, trading up to his biggest venue yet and appearing on the infamous Macintyre’s Comedy Roadshow. The show was less edgy than in previous years, but still amongst the very best on offer at the Fringe. I hoped that he would do well for himself, even as I acknowledged that explosive success would probably force him to water down that macabre secret formula which made him so compelling to watch.

This year, Andrew is back in the same venue, Pleasance’s Cabaret Bar. He hasn’t exploded; even a slightly toned down performance was, perhaps, still too much for general audiences. But as uncharitable as it may be to say this, part of me is glad. It means I get to treasure his shadowy delights for one more year.

And trust me, he does delight. In this year’s show, the baby boomer generation are excoriated for destroying our collective futures in the service of their own personal wealth accumulation. Children of Edinburgh are tortured, that they might learn a simple truth: “Life is hard, my friend.” Mr Lawrence righteously exposes the disappointing detail of his own sex life in order to put straight a group of witless, BMX-riding teens. He relates these exchanges in a lightning interchange of impersonated voices, delivering precisely crafted passages of dialogue to our waiting ears as if they had been vomited spontaneously from a simmering vat of rage and misanthropy concealed within his ribcage.

Andrew doesn’t quite hit the extreme heights of his earlier years, which is all that prevents me from giving him top marks. However, I still wholeheartedly recommend him to those of you who prefer your laughs to be of the bleaker, blacker variety. Success could strike a man as talented as this at any time; see him now, while his edge is still sharp.

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