Is That Right Aye? is a much smarter show than its promotional material might have you think. It’s surely pretty patronising to immediately think that four lads in tracksuits don’t have anything smart to say, but to look at the flyers you’d be forgiven for assuming that the show is some sort of lazy riff on DJ Badboy. It certainly isn’t, functioning more as a kind of exaggerated celebration of the Scottish character. If I have any real problem with the show is that it’s a mostly uncritical view of that national persona, an insider’s perspective that’s happy to incorporate some of its ugly side for a cheap laugh. I remember a Scotland from my childhood that was far more ignorant and bigoted, whether it was towards women, LGBT people; pick your poison as far as marginalised folk made to feel unwelcome. That’s by no means a thing of the past, but I recall a time where dated rhetoric like that was far more normalised and accepted, where it was the rule rather than the exception.
I’m not accusing this show of any of that, not really, but what I take issue with is the uncritical, ironic detachment these elements are presented with on the stage. It’s patently obvious that the four lads starring in the show probably couldn’t be further from the sort of guys they’re playing, I suspect even the tracksuits are just for show. But beyond some clips where their mums say they’re lovely – let us not forget basically everyone’s mum will say that – we see none of the perfectly nice lads I’m sure they are, just the deliberately stupid, ignorant personas they’re inhabiting. Lacking another point of reference, it’s not clear that those personas are the butt of the joke, as I’m sure was the intention. It’s not terrible, nothing that ruins the show, and it’s rare. These bits, when they do crop up, are funny if you buy into the joke that these people are worthy of ridicule, but the palpably tense reactions in the crowd tell me that this sort of stuff just isn’t going to fly anymore when it’s presented in straightforward terms that don’t do enough to turn the ignorance back on itself. There’s plenty of Scottish comedians out there doing excellent material that’s conscious of these flaws in our national character and I think a platform like Weegie Hink Ae That? has deserves to be used for something a bit bolder than a few cheap laughs.
That said, this is a bloody great show. It’s rare to see a comedy group where all members seem to be breaking their backs this much to pull their own weight. All four lads are hilarious comic actors, sharp impressionists and talented musicians to boot. The show is split into a series of sketches and songs, just about all of them poking fun at some aspect of modern Scottish life. For myself, I preferred the more outlandish sketches. Growing up on a diet of Scottish comedy like a lot of us have – stuff like Still Game, Chewin’ the Fat etc – has left a lot of the more down to earth stuff feeling a little stale for me, but even then, Is That Right Aye? is showing off the best of the best in its more mundane jests at Scotland’s expense. But me, I’ll take angry old dears interrogating a council worker, over a song about how the trains don’t run on time, any day.
The songs themselves are great though, the boys are genuinely fantastic singers and musicians all. The lyrics are smart, funny, catchy, but a lot of these little musical interludes are a bit self-indulgent to be honest. They all seem to go on just a little bit longer than the joke really needs, and as impressive as the performances were I don’t think there was one tune that I wasn’t ready to hear the end of about two minutes in. Again, the songs are excellent fun, but easily the weaker half of the show as far as laughs go.
The stronger half that’s packed full of inventive, intensely performed sketches is easily worth your time by itself. I think these lads are going good places and I’d love to see something even smarter and more unusual from them next time around.