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Daniel Simonsen – Stranger review

Pleasance Dome

By Jonny Ensall

This is painful. Daniel Simonsen is deliberately trying to sabotage his own show. Realising that he's misplaced his better jokes in some dark and unreachable corner of his mind, he's started rolling across the floor, trying through sheer stupidity to inject some feeling into a dead room.

The crowd attempts to help him out of the hole, supporting last year's Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer winner with over-egged bursts of laughter at his mildest moments of humour. But there are still ten minutes to go, and Simonsen has started flipping through his notebook, trying to find something, anything, that will make the ticket price seem worthwhile.

Flashback to half an hour ago, and the Norwegian comic is in full flow, making spectacularly obvious, 'funny because it's true' observations. Here's one of the peachiest: why is it that, if a comedian is dying onstage, it's the audience who feel bad? After all, if you saw someone fall down the stairs, you wouldn't be like, 'Oh. That's so bad for me.'

When Simonsen gets things right, he elevates the simplest of gags to award-winning standard. And here, in the first half of the show, the audience are happily settling into his laissez-faire, socially awkward groove. Material about slow walkers, cats and even Facebook slips down as smoothly as Michael McIntyre along a water slide, helped by Simonsen's hammed-up outsider's accent, and naively straightforward handling of the sorts of subjects other comedians would dismiss as old hat. It's so clever, in fact, it makes you question the whole basis of observational comedy. Can it really be this easy for a boyish Scandinavian introvert to pick apart the day-to-day quirks of a bunch of Brits?

Possibly not, because the show's second half shows just how fine the line is that Simonsen is treading… and later rolling over. He admits that he's attempted a different way of doing things for this year's Fringe – a style where he improvises as many jokes as he's planned, and flirts with the frisson of failure by going on stage every night without a game plan. 'It's like being a DJ, except you don't bring any records,' he explains, 'Just to see how you'll cope'.

It's a brave experiment that could go either way. On this particular night, however, it ends in deep, sweaty embarrassment when a microphone stand malfunction derails a complex gag. Simonsen decides to spoil the punchline by simply explaining where he was trying to go, and why he didn't get there. Never mind deadpan – the delivery is zombie-esque.

What's most bizarre is the sense that, in some uncovered psychological dimension, this talented young stand-up actually wants to fail. He talks about the accolade he picked up last year, the pressure it put on him, how he loves Edinburgh, and hopes that he can still… then trails off. He stops short of spilling his guts. Which is just as well. The audience already has that sinking feeling in their stomachs – the empty gurgle of mortification, like the weightless feeling of falling down the stairs.

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