These days it’s so easy to take a look at a flyer, or see a ten minute set on TV and pigeonhole a comedian into a certain category. I say this because with Brennan Reece, a young comedian from Manchester whose debut hour last year ‘Everglow’, caused a stir and landed him a nomination for Best Newcomer at last year’s fringe; is most definitely not what you expect. On the surface he fits somewhere in a category alongside several fresh-faced young male comedians, many of whom build their set around relationships, lads nights and crazy antics. Not so with Reece, which is why I find myself taking a little more time than usual over how to accurately reflect on this year’s offering, ‘Everlong’.
Many comparisons were made last year, amongst those references to a young Alan Bennett and a similar style to Victoria Wood at times; both of which I would agree with, based on tonight’s show. I would suggest this comparison is valid because where Reece’s real strength lies is in story-telling, and what makes ‘Everlong’ special is the boldness with which the narrative relies so little on the jokes. It’s an extremely funny hour, full of relatable anecdotes and reference points, but then so are many shows. Where this hour is unique is in the absence of a girlfriend, the lack of testosterone…and the strikingly vivid presence of Reece’s grandmother; the focus of the story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full show which seems to rely so little on gags and such a lot on honesty.
As a performer Brennan Reece is high energy, youthful and full of smiles. His writing however, despite placing himself firmly in the role of ‘not quite an adult’ belies an unexpected maturity, with a approach which does not focus on ‘being funny’. The fine detail which adorns the narrative is, for me, where the jokes begin to emerge; references to particular clothing companies, fashionable pencil-cases and other slightly niche specifics allow us to locate his story within a timeline. From there, Reece has sprinkled a handful of more extended ‘jokes’, but the real joy is the clarity with which he depicts his grandmother and their adventures together. Beginning with the references to each of her outfits depicting the imagery of a particular Quality Street sweet, he shapes her character so thoroughly that she seems almost to be present throughout.
There is a turning point in the later half of the hour where Reece takes a more reflective and thoughtful tone; questioning his decisions, encouraging us to consider how we would respond. It is here that ‘Everlong’ achieves something extremely different from the average comedian of Reece’s age. In the closing minutes of the show, the audience (myself included) are visibly moved by the change in the performance. It’s a bold choice to concentrate on the space between the laughs, on silence and contemplation in the key final moments of a show. One can never quite guarantee how the audience will feel emerging into the light. It’s a big risk, and in the case of ‘Everlong’, one that completely pays off.
What Brennan Reece achieves with this year’s follow-up is a thoughtful, brave and gut-wrenchingly real performance which is so much more than an hour of stand-up. This is a young comedian who very clearly is not fixated on being a crowd pleaser, and what ‘Everlong’ proves is that honesty, simplicity and vulnerability can have sometimes result a greater impact than some of the most shocking material. A funny, charming and emotional hour which is well worth your time.