Sex, Lies and the KKK

Abie Philbin Bowman is intentionally provocative, but isn't that what the best comedy is all about?

Dublin comic Abie Philbin Bowman bills himself as a comedian ‘without borders’. With previous stage-shows entitled Jesus: The Guantanamo Years and Eco-Friendly Jihad, his description seems fair.

Now he is now in Belfast for the 12th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, performing his latest one-man show, Sex, Lies and the KKK, which is provocative and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Before the ‘official’ performance begins, however, Bowman informs us that Belfast occupies a special place in his heart. Despite performing his controversial shows all over the world, it was a previous performance in this city in 2007 that attracted the most media attention.

After Jesus: The Guantanamo Years was boycotted by the Democratic Unionist Party, a spirited debate ensued on live talk radio between Bowman and Christopher Stelford. Bowman recalls that he was pleased to have the discussion - and was even more happy with his oft-quoted quip about how it seemed hypocritical for the DUP to 'criticise him for dressing up in orange and talking about Jesus'.

Perhaps, as a thank you, we are treated to a specially crafted introduction revolving around the upcoming Northern Irish election. This is razor sharp political satire, not the outdated, outmoded ‘prods and taigs’ humour that is all too prevalent amongst  Northern Irish acts who consider themselves political or satirical comedians.

After a riotous response - the lack of a stage in The Dark Horse adds to the intimacy between performer and audience - it is obvious that Bowman has most of the crowd on his side. This is a good thing for him, considering some of the sensitive topics that are to be raised during the remainder of the show.

We are taken on a journey that begins on the night that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Bowman explains that he was working for a Galway radio station at the time, and, keen to cover the election from a different slant, he opted to interview a spokesperson for the Ku Klux Klan.

Whilst this may seem like a churlish approach (why not interview a Civil Rights veteran, for instance?), the comic's philosophy is simple: by giving such bigots a flash of the limelight, chances are that their inconsistent, contradictory and nonsensical ramblings with show them up as the fools that they are.

Bowman is undoubtedly at his finest, however, when he goes beyond discussing the logical flaws of hate groups and targets his own personal inconsistencies and those of the seemingly liberal audience. With meticulously planned precision, he poses (and aims to answer) awkward questions, such as whether or not we are all ‘sexual racists’. Well, are we?

With material this cerebral, it would be easy for proceedings to get too serious. Yet the charming comic keeps things lighthearted throughout, and if things do get a little heavy he is right in there with a quick gag to keep the ball rolling. Furthermore, it is clear that Bowman is genuinely trying to make a positive difference with his comedy: this set never feels mean-spirited or controversial just for the sake of it.

By way of an encore, Bowman goes back to his roots as a musician and serenades us with a cover version of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Mrs Robinson', with lyrics appropriately adjusted to suit a Belfast audience. While we have likely all heard similar covers before, few contain such clever wordplay as this.

Stand-up comedy needs more performers like Abie Philbin Bowman, and with the recent news of Osama Bin Laden's death, one wonders what he's going to do next.

Abie Philbin Bowman performs his new show, Pope Benedict: Bond Villian at the Assembly Rooms in Belfast on May 5 as part of the 2012 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.