Jo Caulfield is a veteran of not just the Fringe, but a pretty dazzling array of BBC television and radio shows as well. She’s very familiar to mainstream comedy fans, and for good reason, she’s very funny.
Pretending to Care, however, highlights the issues with maintaining a steady and successful comedy career. The show feels like a victim of Caulfield’s veterency, not bad, just… steady. The first half takes aim at some easy targets, as if any of us don’t think the Kardashians are idiots in 2016. Even when flirting with opinions on Brexit Caulfield fails to conjure up much that might offend or annoy anyone. It’s not that it isn’t funny, it’s just there’s a palpable safeness to it all that disappoints.
What does begin to annoy is an irritating (ironically) segment of observational comedy near the middle, riffing on minor everyday annoyances, and here I became uncomfortably aware that the majority of the laughs were emerging from visibly privileged over 40’s in the room. It’s not that it wasn’t funny, much of it was very amusing, and it’s a testament to Caulfield’s talent and experience that she was able to carry it off. I just never found myself laughing out loud.
Where I found the laughs was wherever she pushed boundaries. There was a good few moments that couldn’t be broadcast before the watershed, and this material had a much sharper edge. Things absolutely improve when Caulfield delivers her ruder lines with the confidence and wit you expect of her, but there’s too much paddling in the safe shallows for the show to be totally enjoyable. There’s a great story about accidentally getting a lapdance, and even the tired observational segments are good when she trains her profane ire fully. The show definitely trends towards bigger laughs in the second half, and the closing line is admittedly amazing.
Pretending to Care is a very competent piece of stand-up, delivered well by a natural comedian, and while it can never quite shake a lukewarm opening, it only gets stronger as it progresses, something I expect may well happen across the shows run, as well its run-time.
★★★ (and a half)