Review: Stewart Francis

LOTTIE UNWIN: Stewart Francis ‘has claim to the title of best Canadian stand up I have ever seen. It wasn’t a long short list.’

Canada. Jimmy Carr Matt Rudge Mock the Week Patrick Swayze Richard Gere Stewart Francis William Cook

May 24th, 8.00 at The Junction 2. £15. 

Stewart Francis’ high tech website proclaims high praise from William Cook: ‘This stand-up cracks some of the best one-liners I have ever seen.’ That much is true.  For example, “My father collects empty bottles. That sounds better than ‘he's an alcoholic,’ doesn’t it?”

Francis cobbles a set together almost entirely from one-liners like that. It's unique. And what's more, he actually makes it work: Francis’ set rests entirely on his intonation, straight face and long pauses, but he didn't let his composure waver for a second. Such attention to detail comes as a welcome change to the bounding Andrex puppy style of comedy we're all used to.

By contrast, while warm-up act Matt Rudge hit the nail on the head with an energetic, anecdote-based act, it felt like I'd seen it all before. (The fact that I am very sure I have seen the set before might have a part to play, granted. But even if wasn’t trying to place him in an episode of Mock the Week, I am sure I would feel the same sense of familiarity.)

So, the downside. Call me old fashioned, but some of the references to spastics – accompanied by lengthy impressions of them – did leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth. The offensive can be funny, if somehow the comic is punning with it. But if there's no joke, only a jab at the disabled, there’s really no reason to laugh. Maybe I'm being over-sensitive?

While the one-liners were linked together brilliantly, they – fairly obviously – never metamorphosed into anything greater. And sometimes a stale sense of the long car journey, where joke after joke is told to fill the time, began to creep in.

Francis was described by another critic as “The poor man’s Jimmy Carr,” but, to his credit, I liked not liking him. Especially as he mimicked a fictional, star-struck girl in the audience, playing out her adoration of him. (The irony, wonderfully, wasn’t entirely evident.) He was being a dick and relishing it – and it looked like fun.

Anyway, Stewart Francis is wrong.  He doesn’t look like Richard Gere as he proposed at all. He's more like a chubby Patrick Swayze. That said, he does still has claim to the title of best Canadian stand up I have ever seen.  It wasn't a long short list.