This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com
Steve Hall, by his own admission, is an out-of-form stand-up-comedian. Having taken a break from several years since his last show at the Fringe, during which he has written extensively for TV – notably Russell Howard’s Good News – and undertaken the challenge of fatherhood, he has now returned with his new show Zebra. As he admits in one of many refreshingly candid moments, he is still “finding his feet again”.
Hall’s rustiness is reflected in his comedy. His material is strong, his punchlines emphatic, his diatribes verbose and entertaining, but all is delivered at pace with a forced self-assurance, an affected bravado. Hall settles into his set as it progresses, and his comic flair is allowed a freer reign as his confidence grows, but he is never quite able to shake this first impression. One can sense a whispering anxiety throughout, and although Hall’s confession is endearing, it does not go far in assuaging the audience’s slight trepidation.
Make no mistake, Hall (a taller, scruffier Steve Carrell) is a talented comedian and his routines show flashes of brilliance. His set is highly personal; with the aid of blown-up photographs, he talks at length about his family, but this only occasionally lapses into self-indulgence. His tentatively avant-garde declaration that his young nephew “is simply a c**t”, for example, begins an entertaining routine about the realities of parenthood, and the awkward situations that arise when confronted with poor parenting from others.
Hall’s skill as a writer is evident throughout. Each routine, and the entire set in fact, is remarkably well crafted. Returning to recurring themes regularly, delaying punchlines until the opportune moment, and delivering wordy rants on a variety of bugbears, Hall is clearly a naturally funny chap.
In truth, though, despite frequent chuckles and the occasional outburst of hearty laughter from the audience, Hall never has them rolling in the aisles. He is not helped by performing in “the world’s shittiest hotel room”, a cavernous carpeted room that puts one more in mind of corporate conferences than comedy, but it is his lack of recent Fringe experience that is mostly to blame.
Edinburgh, with its endless competition and frequently sparse audiences, is a hard place to regain the sure-footed comic delivery that Hall’s writing merits. A funny stand-up, but one undoubtedly not in best form.