At the beginning of his new show, Liam Withnail admits to not having anything interesting happen to him this year, making it more difficult to write for this show than previously, which have seen him take on his drinking and getting married. However, he uses this seeming lack of motivation to centre the show around the topics of white privilege and feminism.
Withnail does raise some important issues concerning feminism, most notably the marginalisation of female comics in terms of getting gigs and at the Fringe. This he illustrates with a shocking anecdote that reveals how unconscious bias could play a part in affecting audience numbers for female acts, as well as a lighter observation on why he didn’t read as many books written by women.
However, it’s the jokes themselves that are hit and miss. Some go down well with the audience, such as Withnail’s subversion of standard Fringe comedy conventions in the show’s second half, with two anecdotes about its two central themes that are not what they seem. Both stories; the first involving a tree Withnail saw on a trip to Iceland and the second concerning him having to tell off a noisy child in a cafe, initially appear to link in to his main themes of male privilege and feminism, as would be expected from a usual Fringe show. However, the punchline at the end of the second anecdote cleverly ties in to Withnail’s admission at the show’s opening that nothing interesting has happened to him, whilst adding a comic twist on the current notion among Fringe comedians that their show must contain serious thematically-relevant stories.
The jokes that appear to be less effective are his early routines concerning his Australian girlfriend’s understanding of the British class system and his Irish father, which despite receiving muted praise from the audience, result in Withnail frequently expressing his frustration with the lack of big unified laughs from the room. Whilst this is an understandable reaction, the increased audience engagement as the show continues manages to make up for these earlier awkward moments.
Withnail is an energetic stage presence that manages to overcome his initial worries about engaging the audience to provide funny yet insightful observations on topical issues that aim to provoke a small change in the way female comics are seen at the Fringe.