I’ve only seen Ed Aczel live once, when he did twenty minutes at the much missed The Good Ship in Kilburn, but vowed then and there to seek him out again as soon as I could. It turned out I was lying to myself as I then failed to do so, but one of the main reasons I joined NextUp was to see his full length show on the streaming service.
The show opens with a cute filmed sequence which sees Aczel (and sometimes more than one of him) in various surreal situations soundtracked to The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever, which sets the tone nicely for the unusual content that’s to follow. In a typically low key way Aczel stumbles on to the stage and begins talking about Kurt Goedel’s theorem on recursive axiomatic systems and Dipple Oil, and other odd facts which have nothing to do with the show, but he explains “I just wanted to get it out there”. Then he introduces the concept of the show, which is “An attempt in layman’s terms to challenge the nature of reality and the meaning of time in a very light tickle my tummy kind of way, and it’s tended to work best with audience sizes less than five so far”, and whilst the opening couple of minutes was deliberately not that funny, pretty much everything else is. And it’s quite unlike any other stand up show that you’ll ever see.
Audience interaction is a big part of his set, with all of the various discussions seeing Ed requesting their views on the subjects, which initially revolve around the idea of infinity, and what thing’s are finite, including “this gig…don’t worry it will end”, along with BT infinity and men, before covering what’s infinite. You can never predict where Aczel will go next though, as he then starts talking about energy bills and high street shopping with the audience, it might not sounds like gripping stuff but Aczel spins gold from it, and it means every show is all but guaranteed to be different.
Thirty odd minutes in there’s a video of Ed being interviewed about the show’s title, where he concludes “I probably should have put a bit more thought in to it all”, it’s akin to the segments in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle where Lee’s interviewed by Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris but it slows the show down a little and whilst the punchline amuses it’s not quite enough, and is the only issue I have with the set. Thankfully it’s the only weak section, as he then tries to be a more traditional comedian who can get on tv, which includes a selection of more traditional jokes, some of which are groan-worthy but some of which are very funny, and this leads in to some more audience chat, all of which made me laugh a fair deal.
The show ends with Ed declaring “I don’t really have an end for this show…the only thing I’ve got a quiz, but in order to make it a bit quicker I’ll do the answers first”. Despite lacking context a good few of these are very funny, especially “I hate to say it but that one wasn’t Tony Blair’s fault”, before he admits he never got around to writing the questions, and asks the audience to ask him the questions instead. It’s not the strongest part of the show but it does at least end on a great joke.
It’s been suggested that Ed’s anti-comedy in a way, and that might apply to some of his material but I don’t think it’s always the case. Whilst there’s not a great deal of what you might describe as traditional jokes with punchlines present, he often sneaks them in when you least expect – Casualty, Hollyoaks and Coronation Street are infinite, for instance, and at one point he comments “If you go and see a comedian – and I recommend you do” which gets a big laugh from the audience, and throughout he’s able to create a lot of humour out of the concepts and ideas he plays around with. He’s by no means a conventional comedian, and interviews suggest that he enjoys his status as someone who takes pleasure from failure, but whilst it may look occasionally like he doesn’t know what he’s doing don’t let that fool you for a second, as he’s clearly a master of his art.
Ed Aczel is definitely not a comedian for everyone and I could completely understand why he’d leave some cold. But I enjoyed the show an enormous amount, once you get in to his way of thinking and relax in to what’s a deliberately ramshackle show there’s a huge amount to enjoy. His playful interactions with the audience are a real highlight, and Aczel is a pretty unique comedian, and one who should be sampled if at all possible. Whilst the show debuted in Edinburgh in 2017 he’s still performing it now, and at the very least it’ll be an experience you won’t forget.