Reviews - Fringe 2017

The Fancy Brain Show: Shambolic'er

By Daniel O.W. Smith
Published July 18, 2016

The Fancy Brain Show: Shambolic'er is straight, unapologetic stand-up comedy, at least initially. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that much of the first 25 minutes or so of Francis Brian Shaw's set is experimental, that many of these are new jokes he's trying out on the audience for the first time.

Whatever weaknesses or flaws present themselves during that first section is well worth sticking out for what comes next: a vulnerable but fierce perspective on learning to live with disability, and how the rest of the world sees it.

With the thick skin and quick barbs of a veteran comic, Shaw's routine nevertheless reveals him as largely tender and humanistic. Those jokes made at the expense of an occasionally uncomprehending or uncooperative audience member are made quickly and relatively gently, belying the performance's final outcome: an inclusive, uplifting philosophical vision of life as the ultimate crapshoot.

His more personal material is, at times, genuinely gobsmacking, his life portrayed as somewhere between cruel joke and fortuitous gift. Those with an uncompromising Christian bent may find themselves rankled by Shaw's lack of shyness about his (ir)religious beliefs, though laid-back churchgoers probably won't have much of a problem enduring his self-aware, tolerant atheism.

In any case, the show's very title is apparently a response to one critic's characterization of an earlier iteration of this show as "shambolic." Obviously, Shaw has no problem responding directly to critics, and embraces his act as a disorganized mess.

The thing is, it's clear by the end that his choice of subtitle is multilayered, that opting for chaos as theme is actually a neatly paradoxical form of advance planning. For a disorganized, chaotic, sometimes vulgar performance, The Fancy Brain Show concludes in a surprisingly clean and satisfying manner.

Daniel O.W. Smith is a writer and editor who lives in Hamilton and comes from Maine. Feel free to get in touch via email.

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