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Alfie Brown: Soul for Sale
Published on Friday, 31 August 2012
3

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
Comedy
2-26 Aug, 6:25pm-7:25pm
Reviewed by Martin Lennon

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Few comedians are brave enough to say what Alfie Brown is saying. Brown’s show has the power to completely unsettle you – and, while the point he is trying to make is valid, you also have to suspect that not everyone in the audience is ready or willing to hear it.

The 25-year old has lots of views to vent, and he doesn't mind too much about how he articulates them. Often he is well-spoken, but at other times he resorts to shouting, or even a bit of dance and karaoke. Brown’s main theme is fairly simple to understand: he says that in 2012, we are experiencing a decline in morality and culture. In support of this view he uses subjects ranging from Adele and Rihanna to TV personalities, including the ‘unique’ stars of Made in Chelsea.

This is a man on a crusade to save the media industry, and a lot of his frustration is aimed at a media executive (representing the commercial side of the field) who gave him the advice to "be funny, not clever – no one cares if you're clever". What's admirable about Brown is that he is trying to instigate the conversation, rather than present the solution. He finds the music culture in particular a series of contradictions, rightly mentioning that you can't use expletives in music during the day – but pop stars such as Rihanna can use highly sexualised lyrics, that push her young teenage fans into thinking certain behaviour is appropriate.

On the other hand, Brown can make you cringe as well as enlighten you. He engages in a debate about “good” offensive comedy and “bad” offensive comedy, and it was here where he pushed boundaries by using a subject such as paedophillia. The room was filled with silence and awkward laughs. Jokes on masturbation seemed to be relatively light and easy, compared to the rest of the gig’s material; his words are not for those unprepared for intellectual challenge.

And while he certainly has ability and charisma, he does also risk coming across as somewhat arrogant and smug. While his attacks on media executives are justified, I do wonder whether Brown is not as much part of the system as we all are. For me his set lacked a certain context, to explain why he wanted to be such a revolutionary. Unless he is willing to follow his words up with real action, then they are simply hot air, quickly forgotten about.

Alfie Brown is liable to leave you thinking about his show for days, or even weeks, which is surely a testament to his undeniable talent. It’s fair to say that he may never appeal to a mainstream audience – though this in turn may suit him, and his mission to provide a voice for the disenfranchised comedians who put individualism before profit. In any case, star ratings shouldn't be a reason to want to go to his show; instead, it’s for those with a genuine desire to see someone who wants to change the idea of comedy.

There may be points where Brown challenges your own concept of stand-up. But there is no doubt he can build up a strong following without having to resort to a road he doesn't want to go down: big-venue commercial success.

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