Phil Nichol: Twenty

Phil Nichol

Assembly Checkpoint

From 03 August 2016 to 28 August 2016

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

Phil Nichol's twentieth anniversary show on the Fringe demonstrates very well just how much he is a mass of contradictions.

He is the most welcoming performer in Edinburgh, shaking everyone's hand on the way in and out and thanking them for coming and seeming absolutely sincere, but when on stage he can really lay into the audience and insult them, collectively and individually—followed, of course, by that twinkly-eyed smile. He seems very needy for our approval, even of his insults directed towards us.

His show tries to give the impression that it is made up on the spot—he even throws his twenty years-worth of scripts in the air at one point, but most of the sheets are clearly blank—but there must be some very careful planning behind it, with some room for banter and improvisation.

The Canadian-Scottish comic dips into his two decades of material by introducing the concept behind one of his past shows and then telling the audience to applaud him on again as he starts the show all over again, but in 2002, or 1996, or whenever. The audience is charmed (and perhaps slightly scared) enough to oblige every time, even obliging with a standing ovation just ten minutes in, just because he asks them to.

He introduced us to his mum and dad in the audience (at least he said they were—and how could we disbelieve him?) and tells us about his training as an actor, which took three years and £14,000 of his father's money (he is actually a very good actor, as he has demonstrated on the Fringe many times).

As he mentions his 2002 show Things I Like I Lick, he has to, of course, lick the head of a bald man in the audience to try to tell him what he had for dinner. Does it work? You'll have to see him to find out. It's not all talk either, as he, from time to time, takes up his guitar for one of his comic songs.

His energy and enthusiasm are both infectious and exhausting, but he's often very funny—and he always picks up when an audience doesn't respond to a gag and sometimes gets a laugh from not being funny.

Perhaps it isn't advisable to be crossing the Meadows at 11PM singing to myself, "I'm The Only Gay Eskimo", but it's just so catchy.