Looking back over previous Fringe coverage, it appears that every time Tom Ballard comes to Edinburgh then somebody from the Wee Review snaps him up for coverage, probably because the cheerfully explosive Australian is never an entirely predictable quantity. Ballard never fails to find a new angle from which to attack his latest targets, which often include himself, and to follow through each thread way past logic and into unstoppable juggernaut outrage.
Ballard begins with a gleefully smutty recounting of a sexual encounter with a Scottish witch the last time he performed at the show, and a self-effacing display of his newly rotund physique. Before long he’s turned on the full beams of his vexation. The principle villain of the piece is a society that pushes its elderly into homes and practically leaves them to rot. Into this he weaves the story of his late grandmother, who passed last year at the age of 100. But just when you think Ballard is getting unusually sentimental he turns on a dime.
It turns out he has much unkinder words for the elderly when personified by the late Queen and the not-late-enough Rupert Murdoch. As normal he slowly ramps up his routines on each, and pushes the limit and the volume until the show becomes a series of rolling crescendos. Does some of Ballard’s technique get jettisoned along with some of the crowd’s goodwill as he pushes at the barriers of sound and taste? Undoubtedly, but there’s a terrible momentum that hauls each acidic vignette through to its conclusion, and it’s always funny to see a spent Ballard suddenly silent and leaning heavily against the back wall, as if about to swoon like a consumptive damsel.
For all Ballard is pure vitriol against Murdoch, monarchy, and the state of the care system, his audience interaction is usually unerringly pleasant. Usually that is. One persistent heckler with a swivel-eyed line in conspiracy finally does enough to get Ballard riled. The comic eviscerates the interloper so thoroughly and brutally that a cynical viewer might wonder if they had been a plant à la Brendon Burns. He even manages to bring it into an imagined conversation with his late grandmother. It turns out that Tom just happens to occasionally attract this type of person.
It’s always entertaining to see a left-leaning comedian prod at the boundaries of their audience and be prepared for not all of them to come along for the ride. There’s no complacency in Tom Ballard as a performer. He admits that attacking institutions like the Monarchy, and the media dominated by people like Murdoch who do much to perpetuate the regime’s illusion of legitimacy, doesn’t make him an edgy comedian in and of itself. But it’s the sheer scale and force of his invective that makes even the most guillotine-ready modern Robespierres wince. If the guy on stage doesn’t rest on his laurels, there’s no reason for an audience to either.
‘It is I’ runs until Sun 27 Aug 2023 at Monkey Barrel 1 at 18:10