Oh my word. We know Spencer Jones is a master of clowning around with props, but he’s fast evolving into a triple/quadruple/quintuple threat comedian, a man who can extract laughs in many different ways – songs, sketches, anecdotes, crowdwork – all wrapped up with a pathos-flecked childish daftness. He’s one of the Fringe’s purest comic talents.
In this year’s show, he seems to be backing away from his alter ego, The Herbert, and allowing the loveable bowl-cutted idiot savant on stage simply to trade under his own name. Previously, he’s only obliquely referenced his own life in shows, hinting at being a bit of a waste of space in Proper Job and at familial loss in Eggy Bagel. In The Audition there’s a clearer, vaguely from-life thread with a proper storyline and everything: a part has come up as a robot in a feature film and Jones/The Herbert needs to get it to feed the kids. It’s informed, no doubt, by the humiliating auditions Jones himself has endured in search of a buck. The scenes where he people-pleases a casting director are as beautifully observed as they are hilarious.
But that’s not even half of it. The main thread is broken up by some prime buffoonery. People who see faces in things? Jones takes it to ridiculous heights, turning tennis balls into Robert De Niro, or a Beats-by-Dre wearing kid. Some coconut shells help turn him into Craig David. The best bits of all involve him standing on a weight-loss vibration plate. It’s utterly, utterly stupid, the kind of lark you’d try yourself after a night on the sauce, but leaves the room laughing like a drain.
He also pulls off the remarkable feat of doing a sketch about his kid without being cloying. Using a tennis-ball/dinosaur puppet as a stand-in for Jones Jr. he renacts a chat about the birds and the bees that manages to be both sweet and funny.
Jones always had a touch of the Tommy Coopers about him. More specifically, Tommy Cooper playing Frank Spencer. But there’s moments here that channel Eric Morecambe too, most noticeably a shower scene – preparation for his audition. That might make it sound old-fashioned, and it is. It’s old-fashioned in its charm and universality – a grown-up comedy show you can take the kids to. But it’s also thoroughly 21st century, with beat-boxing, loops and a modern sense of timing.
His genius didn’t suit the wide open spaces of Live At The Apollo and his turn on Upstart Crow was too David Brentian, but somehow someone needs to find this man a bigger platform. He deserves to be massive. His days of fruitless auditioning are surely numbered.