Cowgate’s Subway bar is packed to the virtual rafters for Cumbrian stand-up Tom Little. It’s great to see – especially for a mid-week show at the start of the Fringe. It’s an undeniably exciting atmosphere, which Little feeds off like a giggling vampire. It’s a manic start to the gig, with Little speaking so rapidly it’s as if he’s being played back at 2x speed.
He will, he promises us, calm down by the end, but it nevertheless all feels a bit disconnected as he starts into his first couple of short routines. He’s fortunate to have the Subway stage to play with: a modest corner space in any other context which by Fringe standards feels impossibly vast.
Little is a skinny bundle of nervous energy and grinning hypomania, thundering his way from joke to joke with barely a pause for breath. He admits to us that nothing terrifies him more than on-stage silence, and he does his very best to ensure that we never have to endure even a millisecond of it.
He’s a good gagsmith, with a seemingly endless supply of well-constructed jokes that nearly always land. There are a few casualties along the way, as his high-energy delivery inevitably causes him to fluff a punchline or skip over a crucial bit of set up.
Little’s show consists of lots of short set pieces, nothing longer than two or three minutes, which are presented with only the very loosest of connective tissue. Indeed, he admits in a couple of places that he’s got his jokes out of order (eliciting a spontaneous round of applause when he manages to insert the missed routine later, without any of us noticing).
Once he realises that the audience are on his side and loving his material, he visibly relaxes. He’s no less frantic, but he allows himself to indulge in some longer stories, and a few experiments with newer material. It’s mostly very good indeed, and even if he occasionally derails his own pace with stumbles and meta commentary, there’s no doubt that he’s an assured comedian with a wide appeal and a blazing talent. His elevation to TV panel show favourite is surely only a matter of time.