Edinburgh Fringe Review 2019 – Stewart Francis, Into The Punset, Assembly Rooms

A lot of comedians talk about quitting stand-up. And a lot of comedians probably feel like quitting stand-up during the Edinburgh Fringe. But Stewart Francis announced that this would be his final run long before the Festival and after a UK tour in the autumn he is apparently giving up comedy pursue an acting career.

It'll be a shame when he goes because, along with Tim Vine and Milton Jones, he has been one of the shining beacons of the modern one-liner movement. His mix of wordplay and flights of fancy show a mind that is constantly on the prowl for new puns. And this show is certainly packed to the gills with funnies.

Francis is slightly filthier than Vine and Jones but not in the same crudeness league as Jimmy Carr. Give or take the odd sex gag and a bad taste quip about a certain sandwich chain this could be a family show. Though some gags might be lost on younger audiences. A rendition of the theme from long-gone US TV comedy The Beverly Hillbillies seemed wilfully obscure. 

Apart from his singing – and even that is quite lowkey – everything is delivered in the kind of languid deadpan drawl you might expect from John Wayne if he tried stand-up. In fact now in his fifties Francis even looks a little like the ageing cowboy actor. 

In an era when a lot of comedy is about honesty the emphasis here is totally on laughs rather than candid confession. I doubt if the quick-witted Canadian import really has 17 children but the high number gives him a chance to riff about various offspring quirks. Similarly I don't know if he is married or single, he seems to be either depending on what the gag requires. A Trump refernce is a rare foray into contemporary politics – it went down so well maybe he should consider a move into satire

The style can be a little dry at times in both a good and bad way. This is almost comedy as haikus. His movements are tight and economical. He probably does the most subtle Beyoncé impression you'll ever see and that's the most he moves during an hour onstage. 

Unexpected running gags and clever callbacks show how skilful Francis is and make up for the occasional lulls. Just when you think a gag is over – "my electrical puns are the best on the circuit"* – there is another pay-off. and another. And another.

It'll be a shame for comedy if Francis completely disappears. Perhaps he could write material for other stand-ups on the quiet? Once a punster surely always a punster?

Stewart Francis, Into The Punset, Assembly Rooms until August 25. Tickets here. Then touring, UK dates here.

*I wouldn't normally quote jokes but there are so many in this set I think one is allowed.

Read more Edinburgh Fringe reviews here.

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