With the title of his podcast, Stuart Goldsmith identifies himself as “The Comedian’s Comedian”. Certainly, the wealth of experience he has amassed over the course of his 25-year career has allowed him to fully master his craft, and it is as bewildering to us as it is to Goldsmith why huge commercial success continues to elude him, despite significant critical acclaim.
That said, from an audience perspective, it is fantastic to have the opportunity to see such an illustrious comedian performing as part of the free fringe. This year’s show, End Of, is about his recent experience of becoming a father. It explores the anxieties of managing the responsibilities attendant to starting a family, while continuing a career in the uncertain, and often not financially-rewarding, world of comedy.
In less capable hands, this premise could seem potentially unoriginal, but the jokes here are consistently inventive and hilarious. Experiences like sleep deprivation, the indignity of having to sing children’s songs on demand, and finding yourself disproportionately preoccupied with play-dough are familiar notions for anyone who has ever been, or known, a new parent. Luckily, Goldsmith’s clever and imaginative take on these ideas renders them fresh and novel, much to the delight of the audience. There’s a highly entertaining joke about the concept of being a ‘breadwinner’ – an amusing and faintly nonsensical term when subject to Goldsmith’s analysis. Another highlight is when he discusses the awkwardness of interacting with young, female babysitters. Paranoid lest his behaviour is interpreted as in any way lecherous, Goldsmith invokes a sort of “Dickensian gentleman” persona, whose overly polite and restrained manner makes him ironically, comically ghoulish.
An articulate and erudite performer, Goldsmith is adept at audience interaction and knows how to work the crowd. He refers a few times to the fact there’s a noisy punk music festival happening in the room above our heads, working this potential dampener into the show so skilfully that it prompts almost as much hilarity as his actual material. The fact he’s so attuned to his audience is almost to his detriment at points – there’s an awful lot of explicit audience response analysis going on, and it feels at times like he’s admonishing us every time a joke doesn’t land as effectively as he’d like. This feels unnecessary, both because of the overwhelmingly positive reception he’s getting, and in the sense that he does it SO incredibly frequently.
As a seasoned pro, Goldsmith knows how to structure a show effectively. Indeed, the conclusion to End Of is truly climactic: a verbose and increasingly outlandish account of the dramatic ending he had planned for the show, before ultimately being foiled by an appropriately bathetic inconvenience. During this section, exhilarated by Goldsmith’s fast-paced and frenzied delivery and tickled by the various witty call-backs, the audience finds itself utterly hooting with laughter. End Of is yet further evidence of Goldsmith’s enormous talent and indisputable mastery of the genre.