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Jack Whitehall - Nearly Rebellious
Published on Thursday, 13 August 2009

The first thing you notice is the average age of the audience is seven or eight years younger than your typical Fringe comedy performance. Then, when Jack Whitehall minces onto the Pleasance Upstairs stage, strutting about and lisping his lines, he instantly brings to mind a wannabe Russell Brand. Which is funny, given he hosted a Celebrity Big Brother side show (Big Mouth, or Motormouth, or something), the format which made post-MTV and post-'eroin Brand famous - and which presumably also explains the complement of teenage girls.

Your reaction to Brand will determine whether you see that as a criticism or not, but Whitehall does well to escape the improbable shadow of his licentious forebear. He constructs his narrative around his attempts to rebel against what you sense he sees as his stiflingly middle-class background - by trying to be more laddish, trying to be black, or trying to be a right-on liberal, and failing at each. At only 21, it's telling that all of Whitehall's stories come back to living with his parents; but he makes a virtue of necessity from this limited frame of reference.

Nearly Rebellious is excellently crafted: his writing and turn of phrase is at times magnificent, with some hilarious one-liners and punchlines, and Whitehall riffs equally well with the audience throughout before going back on message. He's a big enough performer to comfortably dominate what was a fairly intimate venue - whether he's doubled over and sneering his delivery, contorted with faux rage, or striding past the crowd to scream his frustration at the world outside.

Some of the edgier material felt a little forced, with a few too many jabs at Jews and black people, although admittedly comparing Alan Sugar to Jesus is genius. His spoof rap-star rant was one of several barely-pausing-for-breath rapid-fire outbursts - which was great the first time, but resembled a party piece thereafter.

Nonetheless, Jack Whitehall is a hot act, and even if his key audience today is nubile Big Brother obsessives, he's going to be a huge star tomorrow. For that reason alone, he's worth seeing... but his second ever Fringe show is also a well-written and confidently performed delight, with an obviously heartfelt and oddly touching finale. And if Russell Brand will be forever associated with Andrew Sachs's granddaughter, don't think we've heard the last of Jack Whitehall and a certain celebrity's daughter.

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