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Markus Birdman – Love, Life and Death
Published on Thursday, 23 August 2012
4

4 stars

The Stand Comedy Club II (venue website)
Comedy
1 Aug, 8:30pm-9:30pm; 3-12, 14-19, 21-26 Aug, 9:20pm-10:20pm
Reviewed by Liam McKenna

 Recommended for age 18+ only. Venue may not permit under-18's - check with venue before booking.

Markus Birdman is a nice comedian; he’s “too old for hecklers”, and he doesn’t pick on people. Which suits me, seeing as I’ve ended up in the front row of this small Victorian room after we’ve been coaxed by pushy staff to fill up all the available space. This is officially my first review from the front line of comedy.

Too old for hecklers he might be, but Birdman was not too old to have a stroke, and this near-death experience is at the root of his show this year. On the outside it may seem a pretty bleak subject to base an hour of comedy around. But that is sort of the point. Birdman is here, not so much to preach, but to tackle a subject that “in the Western world” (he says) we tend to avoid facing head-on.

It’s a subject that suits comedy to a T. The material is obviously dark, but when the first few awkward sniggers trickle out, Birdman encourages the crowd to relax and laugh along. It’s what we’re supposed to do.

It’s fair to say Birdman’s not had the easiest run-in, staring into the jaws of death and what have you, being a typical man and mistaking a stroke for an unusually prolonged hangover that left him a quarter blind. But he attacks his misfortune, wraps it up without moping, and presents it to us in a series of whimsical tales about how it transformed him – how the simplest, most banal of realisations, that death is a certainty, can change your perspective on life.

But he’s glad to tell us that he didn’t fall for the old trick of nearly dying, and as a consequence finding God. This is an important issue for him, coming from an Anglican upbringing. He talks about fellow stroke-sufferers who emerged on the other side as evangelists, and posed questions to Birdman such as “Do you think you deserved it?” which, as Birdman says, “is a very un-Christian thing to say.”

There is the odd occasion when Birdman throws in an off-the-cuff pun that he just can’t resist (“Happiness written all over her face…that’ll teach her for breaking my speakers”; “Dwarf in the sack, not a,” are two that spring to mind).  At those moments I found myself cringing, not just because it’s a bit of a dad-joke, but because he’s a better comedian than that.  These momentary diversions detracted from the naturally funny flow of the story.

In the end though, Birdman has a simple message for us: we are all going to die, so do what you love, fall in love, appreciate life’s little things (“smash the granny out of each other”, a phrase that has to be experienced in person). And while he may accept that it’s a touch glib, this is an inspiring story; it fills you with hope. Despite, that is, the bleak Latin phrase he imparts on us: Memento mori. It’s feel-good comedy with an edge, and you leave with the assurance that it’s not a crime to laugh in the face of death.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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