Liam Withnail regularly features in the ‘must-watch’ show roundups before the Fringe; with his high gag rate and great crowd work and with Chronic Boom, it’s easy to see why. Withnail has beautifully crafted a sometimes raw, profoundly personal and outrageously funny hour of comedy about living with chronic illness.
The show starts with footage from a podcast with Christopher Macarthur-Boyd, where Withnail gets a call from the hospital telling him he needs to be admitted. His inflammatory bowel condition has flared up, and he needs inpatient treatment. The call comes as Withnail is about to embark on a lucrative work gig, and you can feel the emotion and frustration at the hand the comic has been dealt.
The crowd work is a little different from the usual ‘where have you come from tonight?,’ with a shout-out for anyone with a bowel condition and wondering if there are any doctors in the house (a yes to both, resulting in some humourous interplay). The stand-up gets some great gags out of his ten-day hospital stay, and the audience is in genuine fits throughout. From wondering what kind of small talk to make with the nurse who comes to collect your poo multiple times a day to the difficulty of sleeping in the hospital, Withnail has mined comedic gold from a very shit (no pun intended) experience.
Chronic Boom is Withnail’s most ambitious show to date, with video footage, lighting cues, a costume change and props. Thankfully, these enhance, rather than detract from the performance, which deals with living with chronic ill health in a way that elicits compassion and laughs in equal measure.
Withnail breaks down how to craft an hour of comedy when there’s a chance you might not be able to do full run-throughs of the material due to ill health. Yet the show is seamless, and you’d never know that flare-ups had derailed Fringe preparations.
Withnail has always been a dependably funny comic at the Fringe, but Chronic Boom is truly special. It’s pitch-perfect, with not a single comedic beat failing to land. He’s shone a light on invisible illness while making you howl with laughter. That’s no mean feat. I really hope the show tours when the Fringe run ends because it’s an hour of comedy that deserves to be seen as widely as possible.