Presented as one man’s attempt to learn stand-up in a year and culminating with a month on the Fringe, this could have been a tense hour for Mark Row. He is clearly familiar with the confines of the stage and happily engages with a very amenable American artist before deploying some moderately successful punnery. Just as he appears to progressing through the material that he has developed over the past year he adopts the pose of compere and introduces Janet Garner.
Garner is also a new comic who has been plying her trade around London’s comedy venues but her introduction is still somewhat jarring, breaking Row’s flow and rhythm. Perhaps unsurprisingly Garner’s delivery, which trades on parochial observations about her friends, men, drink and outspoken nature breaks the mood and muddles what should be an opportunity for Row to stretch his comedy muscle and demonstrate the development he has undergone in the past year as a performer.
Row is back after ten minutes and begins to present his thoughts on the balancing act of being a father and his absence due his current engagement. The challenge is somewhat undermined when Row spends a good portion of his set explaining the tandem documentary and substituting actual jokes for anecdotes. One good gag involves Row explaining that during “mock week” he could “take the piss out of [students] haircuts,” and the Twitter misunderstanding meltdown. With genuine insight into the Education system, a more focused series of observations would have been more rewarding, but it’s evident that Row wants to be branded as the first-time comic as opposed to the teacher-comic which may be more apposite.
His set culminates with what Row admits is a borrowed stylistic device involving a frenzied list of all the obstacles and gruelling travel that he has experienced, delivered in an affected crescendo of despair and emotion. Had this gambit built on a solid set with associated audience goodwill it would have made a suitable climax to the set, but as an outtake for his documentary it will provide some much needed energy in what was essentially an extended open mic spot.