In his own words, John Hastings was a boy bullied every single day he was at school, only to have the extraordinary misfortune of growing into a man who resembles every bully in every movie ever made. Don’t be put off by his imposing stature, arresting visage or bulbous elbow, though; Hastings is a consummate charmer whose 12 years as a stand-up have left him with a plethora of amusing anecdotes, more than one battle scar and a stage presence that immediately gets the audience onside.
From some gentle interactions with those in the front row and a gleeful acknowledgment of the sweat lodge that the Pleasance’s unimaginatively-titled Cellar venue doubles up as, Hastings dives right into his material. This comprises mostly of what a disagreeable year he’s had, with collisions with pigeons and cars featuring highly on his list of grumbles from the past twelve months. There’s also plenty of time to digress into odds acts of sexual gratification, the upheaval of Brexit, the rights and wrongs of the royal family and an inventive comparison of America’s nonsensical gun laws with Britain’s nonsensical penchant for alcohol abuse.
This last segment runs to some length and might draw less laughter from the audience, but that’s almost certainly because his argument cuts so close to the bone. It’s a great example of how Hastings’ material can achieve insight far weightier than simple toilet humour – though there’s plenty of that flying around too. His summation of the positive qualities of Boris Johnson is a prime example and is well worth the price of entry alone, but overall the show is a compelling mix of relatable storytelling, well-structured arguing and a smattering of jokes involving bodily fluids. Something for everyone, then.
Hastings’ material is so polished and his delivery so unshakeable – some of the best moments arise when he’s interrupted by unwanted distractions or trips over his own diction – that it’s a surprise he’s playing in a grubby basement which seats no more than 50 people. A comedian this assured should surely be playing the bigger venues – and not just to the hardy dregs of the city which come along to Late n Live. Chased away from the UK by the looming behemoth of Brexit, Hastings will always have a second home in Edinburgh come August.