Edinburgh Fringe Review: Henry Paker

henry paker



Great show, shame about the critic. Henry Paker's set was one of those hours that put me in a difficult position. It is packed full of jokes, wry, offbeat observations and physical humour but somehow I walked out not feeling fully satisfied even though I'd watched most of the audience in fits of laughter.

Paker is clearly a gifted jokesmith. His style has evolved since I saw him win the Leicester Comedy Festival Comedian of the Year in 2008 and thought he was a weird, angular cross between Harry Hill and Leonard Rossiter's Rigsby. The trouble for me is that I have heard that he is an in-demand joke writer, having written quips for shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Mock The Week. So whenever he cracked a pretty good gag I kept thinking that he was cracking it because others had rejected it. When, for instance, he did an extended riff about going bald, I figured that he was doing it because it wouldn't work if, say, hirsute Seann Walsh did it.

There were moments when it felt as if Paker could not settle into one definitive style. The general framework of Classic Paker is his relationship with his fiancée and his envy of her young, handsome Spanish dance teacher. When he did some material about how he had discovered since cohabiting that women are partial to cushions – why put soft things on other soft things? – it could have been Michael McIntyre talking, or even, going back further, Jeff Green. Likewise his suggestion that once couples live together box sets replace sex in a relationship. This sat rather uneasily alongside more surreal material later on. 

When he delivered an angry routine about how there is only a brief window during which an avocado can be eaten I'm sure I've heard a similar thought made about pears. By Eddie Izzard perhaps? Coincidence, obviously, and the skit worked very well, but it is one of the pitfalls of seeing a lot of comedy that the same ideas bubble to the surface. In the last two weeks I've seen two comedians talk about subjects as diverse as gout (John Robins and Brett Goldstein) and reports that workers have jumped out of windows at a Chinese factory making Apple products.

While Paker gets marked down for originality and cohesiveness of style there is something extremely amiable about him. He has a busy physicality onstage, waving him arms about like a mad professor, which makes a change from stand-ups who, well, don't do much more than stand up. Then again, just to highlight the subjectivity of comedy criticism, I spoke to a colleague who enjoyed the gags but was irritated by the movement. Which just goes to show that you can't please all the people all the time. Paker certainly pleased his audience, but he only partly pleased this critic.

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