Jacob Hawley is one of a number of up-and-coming comedians trying to make sense of their place in the world, and coming to prominence in turbulent times. The political and moral certainties behind the righteous anger that drove numerous waves of alternative comedy have been eroded, and the Fringe feels increasingly like a middle-class liberal commune, isolated in its bubble. Hawley’s debut hour Howl is an attempt to reconcile his liberal instincts with his working-class background, and even if he’s not entirely successful in this regard, it’s a strong calling-card for his career as a standup.
Hawley was born and raised in Stevenage, one of the innumerable spokes on the London commuter wheel. He sets his scene with a St. George’s Day street party thrown by his dad, in which he feels disturbed by the rampant nationalism displayed by family and friends. An easy routine about the patron saint’s origins gets a laugh, but doesn’t prepare us for the depth of his self-critique.
Hawley states that it’s easy to see what’s wrong with the views of his family and with the lad culture he was immersed in as a lad, but he’s equally uncomfortable with the demonising of the working class from the educated, liberal ‘elite’, not seeing himself as fitting into that political straight-jacket either. Much of the material of his hour focuses on this quandary, along with firmly right-on takes on the likes of period poverty.
It’s to be hoped that Hawley doesn’t fall into some no-man’s-land where he fails to be appreciated by audiences on either side of the class divide. He does seem to have the necessary ammo to survive, as he talks about being able to fit in fairly comfortable in social situations of any class, while keeping a healthy cynicism about the company he keeps. His dedication to finding a middle ground between opposing influences is laudable, but the more nuanced the material, the harder it is to mine for laughs and it’s the more general anecdotes that get the biggest response. These include his rapacious drug intake, and being hammered while present at the birth of his sister’s child. Ironically, his laddish proclivities.
As with Hawley’s conflicting loyalties, there is a bit of a push-me-pull-you tension between his political material and his broader, anecdotal subjects, which reveal his more puerile tendencies. This leads to a bit of uneven ground during the hour, but Hawley’s a relaxed and capable performer with a storyteller’s sense of narrative, which helps to bolster his material. His passion is evident, and his heart very much in the right place. A strong debut.