It takes a while for this one to build up a head of steam. John Hastings, a tall, striking Canadian with the look of a neo-Nazi about him, has a way with an anecdote. You can see why he is the go-to for family eulogies. But we’ll come to that story later.
To start with this is kickabout cultural differences material – Canada v USA, England v Scotland. In the early audience repartee there’s also that double whammy of Fringe clichés – a gag about the Scottish weather (although admittedly it has been thundery enough today to evacuate George Square) and one about the Scottish diet. It’s all OKish – he does some good examples of the racism hidden in everyday British language – but at this point his crowd work is outshining the material. There’s an unusual number of interruptions to this gig and Hastings has something for them all, both the things he might reasonably have something prepared for, like an audience member’s distinctive laugh, and the things that require slightly more improvisation like the untimely creak of metal somewhere in the building, which is dismissed as a haunting by a delivery boy.
It feels at first as if this crowd work is going to be padding out thin material for the duration. It certainly has us laughing harder than the main thread of the set, although the rapport he’s building spills through to that too.
As the anecdotes finally step up a gear to be longer and more personal, the audience work really pays off. At first, there’s some detail on how he met his girlfriend, and how they’re now going “off-piste” (as a Canadian, the skiing references are relevant). It’s crude in places, but he’s won the audience’s attention.
Then it steps up again with a longer story of his aunt’s incredible speech at his uncle’s funeral. The actual content is a skeleton such as anyone might have in their family’s closet, but Hastings is heightening it all with physical and verbal dynamics that have everyone hooked in, reminding us why comedy storytelling is his job and not ours.
He finishes with a dissection of hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse who at one point he was supposed to be supporting. The nicheness of that reference is no barrier to the laughs, as he unpicks the ludicrousness of their schtick for even the uninitiated, getting up in the audience’s faces at points.
Not a ‘message’ in sight tonight, just good old anecdotes, skilfully told by a performer with presence.