FNT Live

The taboo-tacking comedians keep the laughs coming in the preview of their Edinburgh Fringe show

With the likes of Give My Head Peace, LOL and Sketchy hammering one nail after another into the coffin of Northern Ireland comedy, you could be forgiven for writing the country off as a laugh-free zone. Calling our home-grown humourists as 'hit-or-miss' would be generous.

Thank Hicks, then, for FNT Live. The Belfast-based sketch troupe have been on the rise since forming last year, but the breakthrough seems to have come when they recruited one-time South Park and MADtv writer Toby Morton. FNT Live – it stands for 'Friday Night Therapy' – deal in similarly edgy, outrageous fare to Morton’s previous gigs. Indeed, tonight’s Edinburgh Fringe preview show at the Black Box tackles every taboo going.

Nothing is off-limits: not drugs, not AIDS, not flesh-eating viruses, not paedophilia, not teenage pregnancy, not abortion, not erectile dysfunction, not auto-erotic asphyxiation and not how unnecessary the new Spider-Man movie is. It’s all lashed together with a generous helping of swear words, and delivered with a level of glee that suggests that for this mob offending people is half the fun. If it weren’t so well-written and adeptly executed, you might call it anarchic.

Sure, were this kind of material delivered by a regular stand-up comedian, it would be guaranteed to have the Nolan phone lines jammed for a week. But the hyper reality conjured by FNT Live’s 13-strong team allows them to get away with almost anything.

They hit the stage as an apparently incestuous folk outfit named the Jingling Lane Family Singers. Throughout the evening they take the guise of everyone from Jedward to the Star Trek cast. They also have numerous specially created original characters.

A foul-mouthed puppet named Fuzzy Wuz is reminiscent of South Park, but any risk of Morton falling into a rut is thwarted by his talented co-conspirators. With backgrounds including stand-up, drama, modelling and filmmaking, they manage to offend, and entertain, from a number of different directions.

Clearly, a lot of care has gone into the production. There's a photo gallery in the foyer showing the group in rehearsal and a side-of-stage keyboardist cueing the sketches with flourishes of Jim Steinman-esque pomp rock.

There’s even a smidgen of social commentary hidden amidst the mayhem, with a skit poking fun at middle-class racism and another mocking superficiality in relationships. It would be nice to see FNT Live continue in this vein. The skilful writing certainly suggests they’re capable.

Needless to say, not everything works (a musical number transplanting The Wizard of Oz to west Belfast is disappointingly parochial), but that’s the scattershot nature of the sketch format. After all, the same could be said of FNT Live’s closest forebear, Saturday Night Live. Enough of the show works to keep the laughs coming for the majority of the 90-minute running time. 

As for Edinburgh, whether the young performers can keep up the quality over a marathon run of 30 shows (partly funded by the R&B star Sisqó, oddly) remains to be seen. But tonight, FNT Live gives new hope to Northern Ireland comedy.

FNT Live can be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from August 2 - 27