Edinburgh Fringe Review: Adam Hess, Cactus, Heroes @ The Hive

I was sitting next to a friend at Cactus, the latest show from Adam Hess, and afterwards they turned to me and said “I’ve never heard you laugh so much.” I’m not known for laughing out loud at comedy shows (I don’t think many critics are) so this is praise indeed. The review would be five stars but he talks so fast and so frantically it is sometimes hard to keep up. And there is something about his frankly manic style that may not appeal to everyone. I may have been laughing loudly to drown out the chat of the two chatty people on the other side who didn’t quite get on board.

That’s their loss though. Hess is lots of fun to listen to once you get one his childish wavelength. And boy is it childish. This year the show includes an anecdote about his schooldays when he found himself marooned in a boat on the Thames in a leotard and was desperate for the loo. There is quite a lot of toilet material here, including a memorable image of him having a shit on an plane.

Hess comes across as the ultimately socially inept nerd, always saying and doing the wrong thing in all the wrong places. There’s a great story about bumping into an old school friend on a train, for example. We’ve all had those awkward social encounters where we don’t know quite how to behave, but none of us gets it quite so hilariously wrong.

Elsewhere there is some intriguing background about his childhood which may shed some light on his adult (and I use that word advisedly) personality. He was born prematurely and his mother - who sounds like she was pretty eccentric before he was born – seems to have been over-protective. There is a particularly ridiculous routine about his healthy packed lunches (she peeled his Babybel for him…), which also quietly drops in a subtext of financial problems at home. He is dyslexic, yet extremely good with words, which might be due to his mum's distinctive brand of tutoring, making him write personal news reports at the end of the school week.

I say “may shed some light” because what is not clear is how much of what the Most Excitable Comic In The World says is real and how much is a stage persona. I assume he doesn’t really wonder why buildings are always “on the outside” but with the autobiographical material it’s a bit more complex. There’s a sweet, almost Richard Curtis romantic subplot in Cactus, but is it embellished fact, fiction, wishful thinking? 

Cactus throws up all sorts of thoughts for me about truth in comedy. But the main thing to convey is that it is one of the most mind-bogglingly mad hours at the Fringe. Thinking about it too much is my problem.  

Adam Hess: Cactus is at Heroes @ The Hive until Aug 27. Tickets & Info here.


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