Will Franken: Little Joe

First up, this show has the most inventive 9/11 joke ever, bar none. That’s a dubious honour in most minds, but then most minds don’t contain the 30-some personalities Will Franken’s seems to. If a particularly innovative joke about a major terrorist attack doesn’t sound to your liking, Franken’s show is probably not for you, and that’s fine.

Little Joe is a one man sketch show, and it owes most to Monty Python, maybe. It’s hard to tell what influences it had, probably psychosis. He does every character on his own, backed by weird sound effects and music. It’s one the most absolutely absurd 60 minutes you could spend.

I will not qualify that with ‘at the Fringe.’

Beginning with a riff on dramatic movie trailers, and numerous references to human semen, Franken descends into an intensely imaginative world of his own creation. He hops from character to character with alarming ease, and the lines between the various skits are virtually non-existent. There’s probably two dozen characters, no egos, at play. Perhaps three of them are differing versions of Franken himself.

The eponymous Little Joe, is at once a menacing Yorkshiremen, and a half-pig, half-rabbit amphibian. There’s a protracted sequence where Franken is put on trial for the show he’s currently performing, and a bookending sequence featuring an entire hospital of doctors called Jason Posner.

My best shot at describing the experience is as something you don’t so much watch, but are subjected to. It’s in a very intimate room in a hotel at York Place, and this feels like a deliberate choice more than an indicator of Franken’s limited audience, though he’s certainly not palatable to most mainstream taste. He’s defined by polarities of complete calm, and absolute derangement. Logic flies out the window, the only connecting threads being Franken himself and the insane flatcap wearing loon Little Joe – who of course, is also Franken himself. It’s sort of like someone released a whoopee cushion that flies wildly around the room, except the whoopee cushion is schizophrenic, and emits screams instead of farts.

Hyperbole aside, the show is seemingly directionless satire, delivered in alternately delightful and terrifying non-sequiturs. It’s not just the lines between sketches that get smeared, but the line between reality and performance. It’s difficult to tell where the real Franken begins – if he appears at all – and the myriad versions of him end.

I’ll say again this show could very easily offend, and whether or not that’s a side-effect of Franken’s mania, or a calculated choice is unclear. I suspect the latter. What is clear is that I laughed, a lot, often without knowing quite why. It doesn’t all work, and it’s not for the overly sensitive, but the madness is worth it even if the humour doesn’t click for you like it did with me.

★★★★

Keiran Burnett

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