This review is from the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe.
Maybe it’s a relatively new thing or maybe the Fringe has been steadily filling up with weirdy LA-based clown comics for decades and I only started noticing in the wake of Natalie Palamides’s landmark 2018 show ‘Nate’. But whatever the case, I’m very much here for it.
Directed by Palamides herself, ‘The Amazing Banana Brothers’ sees Bill O’Neill play both halves of a seedy fruit-based daredevil act. There’s Kevin Calamity, the drunk, horny, homophobic, out-of-control elder brother who insults, cajoles, threatens and, er, urinates on the audience, cracks a bullwhip, dances to the White Stripes and gets morbid and weepy when the subject turns to his act: 1,000 slips on banana skins or your money back. He has never achieved 1,000 slips and is consequently in serious debt.
Then there’s Joey Insanity, the needier, at first seemingly saner younger brother, who has lived his entire life in the brutal shadow of Kevin, and is now forced to take centre stage after Kevin becomes… indisposed (it’s not a spoiler to say that O’Neill can only actually play one brother at a time).
‘The Amazing Banana Brothers’ is a joyously bizarre and bewilderingly funny show that works on numerous levels. There’s the two hysterically damaged characters that O’Neill has lovingly crafted. There’s the technically brilliant banana slipping sequences, which are both superbly performed (the man knows how to fall!) and increasingly funny, with ever lengthier and more surreal pre-ambles before the actual slips. There’s the stomach-clenching audience interaction, which peaks with the bit in which Joey forces a hapless ticket holder to stand in as Kevin in a very long sequence where he attempts to recreate his (highly troubling) ‘happiest day ever’. And there there’s the occasions when O’Neill simply decides to fuck with us all – at one point he breaks the fourth wall to tell Palamides (sitting at the back) that he’s injured his arm, to her audible horror (he’s just winding her up for his own amusement).
Is it deep? I mean, it definitely gestures at family trauma in a way that goes considerably further than just ‘lol, family trauma’. But it also smartly deploys giddy momentum and sheer WTF factor to keep you off-balance and laughing and maybe not thinking too much about what you actually think of Joey (Kevin is clearly a lost cause). Ultimately, though, it’s pretty damn profound for a show about a man slipping over on banana skins. A bizarre and unexpected gem, even if by the end I had to breathe in through my mouth to avoid the rising aroma of squished fruit.