I first saw Tony Law at a charity gig last year. He was fourth onstage after three ‘conventional’ stand-ups, and his detachment from every reality was like a champagne cork between the eyes. I honestly hadn’t laughed so hard since the first series of Boosh, which shared a similarly total disregard for human logic.
But then I saw Tony on Have I Got News For You and he was epically rubbish, so much so that they’re probably using him as some kind of benchmark by which to gauge a guest’s debut success – the Law/Osman scale, if you will, with the Pointless brainbox representing the zenith and poor old Tony the barse-scraping nadir.
But then I thought “He’s just not a panel show kinda guy. He’s a character comedian; flying in his self-constructed element but otherwise leaden.” So when rare tickets popped up for his Edinburgh Fringe show transplanted to the Soho Theatre (last Tuesday night being just one of seven, all sold out) I snaffled them up with glee.
Was he as funny as that first night? Not quite, because he’d lost the element of surprise, but oh so nearly. Sartorially resembling a half-dressed trawlerman from the turn of the 20th Century with the hair – facial or otherwise – of a man viciously molested by bears, he adopts the air of a circus-barker at once bemused, surprised, and immensely gratified by his unexpected escape from ursine assault into a 21st Century world that’s bafflingly alien to him – the Cotswolds? What’s that? Not sure, but here’s a song about how much I hate it, and Jeremy Clarkson, whoever he is.
The usual stand-up tropes are touched on – sexism, kids, fame – but through a deranged prism that deconstructs the gags even as it takes outrageous liberties with them (did his uncle really become a dragon? If you’re half pirate/half viking, can you really learn Vikrate!) all culminating in a willfully stupid finale that starts with two wildly inappropriately accented elephants in a bar and ends with an elephantine art installation set to a pounding musical number that makes it quite clear that Tony has no idea how to end his show, which initially feels like the lazy cop-out it probably is, but he heroically pushes it so far enough into the outright daft as to be absurdly satisfying.
Be in no doubt, Maximum Nonsense is bombastically surreal stuff, but the jolly thigh-slapping man-out-of-time vibe wilts slightly when Tony inexplicably feels the need to take a pop at ‘shock’ comedians – specifically Jim Jefferies and Frankie Boyle – for being mean-spirited mercenaries (“Why say those awful things? Money!”)
That’s pretty rich from a man who’s also done Buzzcocks and 8 out of 10 Cats, and who’s blithe assertion that he’ll never play The Apollo is delivered with barely half a wink. You can’t have your cake and eat it, Tony, no matter how wondrously bananas the icing, but don’t be surprised if you see his ginger brilliance rolling upstage out of that dry ice any time soon.
He’s got the magic to get there.