Punning’s a tough game to make work. Easy enough on paper, but in front of a crowd, a different matter. No hiding the weaker bits in the dynamics of a story. No slow builds to a sure-fire pay-off. It’s got to be bang! bang! bang! punchline after punchline or a crowd reared on Tim Vine and Milton Jones will spot the glaring difference.
So it’s not a complete surprise that there’s a fair bit of tumbleweed blowing through the basement of the Iron Horse for Iain MacDonald‘s pun-based show, and a sparse audience doesn’t help. All things considered, though, it’s not a bad stab for a man at this level. He’s no shortage of material and makes good use of that Glaswegian accent for some novel puns. “Our teacher once asked us if anyone knew what the Latin word for ‘year’ was. I said ‘anno’.” With gags like that, groan quotient is mid-to-high, but he does produce a couple of corkers that still cause a chuckle after the gig’s over, especially one about his incontinent gran.
To structure the show, he has the audience picking prompts from an envelope – fairly broad themes like work or nature – and he manages to get through a section on “eggs” without being too eggscruciatingly obvious. Other devices are also employed to break up the endless wordplay. A pleasantly silly piece of audience interaction around the similarity of certain flags is a bit lightweight, but could be worked up into something more substantial. An interlude for some visual punnery is also a nice idea, though the gags themselves are pretty shonky. More confidence in the delivery would help. MacDonald seems like a man still figuring out what might work, although he was in the semi-finals of the UK Pun Championships so it’s not like the material isn’t road tested under pressure.
The rise of the one-liner merchant certainly doesn’t look like stopping soon. Not while there’s Dave’s Joke of the Fringe and low-rent newspaper columns to fill. That’s a whole lot of eye rolling and “I see what you did there” that Tim Vine has to answer for, and a whole lot of writing opportunities for the likes of MacDonald. Cheesy dad jokery might make some cringe, but there are certainly worse offenders than this man.