Something I’m increasingly convinced of is that it’s harder for a comedian to work with a small crowd than a large one. Now, I’m not talking Live at the Apollo or stadium tour large here, that’s obviously bloody terrifying, but a hundred or so people can have a transformative effect on a show. Laughter is so communal, so social, that it can spread throughout a big crowd and really amplify that atmosphere of jollity and fun. But stick 15 people in a room and just a few missing chuckles can hurt.
Such was the case with Christian Finnegan’s My Goodness. Finnegan’s an American comic who seems to be doing pretty well for himself over there, but this is his first Fringe and it showed in the criminally low turnout. He’s an accomplished comic with a workman’s approach to the art. There’s nothing novel or outstanding on offer but he delivers with practised surety and style. It’s Finnegan’s confidence in particular that was most admirable. This show had a slow start and I find it tough to blame that on the material, at least from my perspective. While I was audibly enjoying myself from the off, the awkward silences from those in the crowd who weren’t clicking with his style would have stopped a lesser comedian dead, but Finnegan ploughed on implacably, moving quickly on when a joke didn’t land but never so quickly so as to appear flustered.
Before long, mostly everyone was onboard, and My Goodness could settle into the comfortable rhythm it deserves. The big cute idea is that Finnegan tries to grade himself as a person, breaking his moral character down into videogamey stats divided between things like honesty, courage and so on. In practice these function as excuses to digress into some appropriate anecdote or observation, each segment peppered with wonderfully combative crowd work. Confidence is also the key here – Finnegan is utterly unafraid to lay into his audience, even when there’s barely enough people to fill the front row. He’s as funny off the cuff as on it, maybe more, and this certainly helped build a little buzz among the quieter punters. There’s safety in numbers after all, and with such a small crowd a lot of the attendees seemed too sheepish to get involved until Finnegan forced the issue. Again, it’s the small crowd that necessitates this. Jokes do not do well in a vacuum.
My Goodness isn’t a perfect little diamond hiding in the rough by any means and even though I consistently found myself having probably the best time of anyone, not all of the material tickled me. Oddly in these moments I found the situation reversed, myself the only silent one, the rest of the room erupting into laugher. There surely is no accounting for taste.
Christian Finnegan is a respectable sort of comedian, the kind who’s earned their stripes if you like. There’s plenty more unique stuff out there, but not so much that’s delivered with the sort of carefully honed experience that Finnegan is offering. He is, however, to a degree I can only call idiosyncratic, admirably willing to present himself in a negative light in service of a good joke. Having seen so many comedians tell half-truths of all the times they had some perfect witticism to win an argument or whatever, it’s refreshing to see someone present themselves as honestly as Finnegan does, and isn’t that sort of the point of the show?
Finnegan deserves better than the turnout I saw My Goodness with, but it certainly was something to see that barely slow the man down at all.