Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

This is a great title. It could be referencing hackneyed comedy or internet ethics. Either way, it piques our interest. Turns out it’s the latter. And from the screen and Apple Mac on stage, we recognise from the outset that we’re in for a techy time with comedian and poet James Bran.

The show is billed as stand-up comedy but actually feels more like an amusing, but relevant and considered TED Talk, with multimedia. In fact, James Bran may be missing a trick by not ticking the multimedia (as well as stand-up) box on the Fringe website. Edinburgh in August is an ocean of solo stand-ups, something he references in his show and the inclusion of well-used media helps bring something different and provides an intriguing added dimension. It also grabs the attention of the screen lovers with whom he wants to communicate.

Hack takes a look at the increasing cultural obsession with devices, social media and smart tech. There’s a clear and valuable intention here, to get us thinking and moving past blind acceptance of the latest gadgetry. He calls out our often unquestioning trust in much of Silicon Valley’s latest creations, along with our willingness to hand over our most private data, in return for lives of apparent increased ease. It’s eye-opening and enlightening stuff and makes for refreshing Fringe material in the way it’s presented.

After an excellent intro routine with a genius bit of screen use, there are some less effective sections. This is tempered by some very funny and original observations. It would do better with less audience chat and banter even if that means shaving off ten minutes – the preplanned/fourth wall stuff flows much better. Any references to the audience being ‘quiet today’ by not reacting to jokes that don’t land or complaints about not getting reviewers however brief and throwaway, need to go. It’s not uncommon for comedians to do this on stage in joke form and it’s almost never funny or endearing. It alienates us, eliciting a mixture of awkwardness, guilt and irritation. And actually, the content in this show is involving enough to not rely on a steady stream of big laughs.

The flaws in Hack must be balanced with the fact that punters can see a show with some high production values for very little (pay what you want as you leave, or buy a ticket in advance). Bran has some really good material here and a show that has legs – it would be ideal on the TED platform, adapted for YouTube, touring for teens (boy, do they need to hear some of this) and more. Hack is strong, thought-provoking, purposely shocking, well researched and interesting.