Ed Aczel

The unorthodox comic is a strange mix of the good, the bad - and it gets ugly at the Black Box

At 43, overweight and dressed like a cross between a geography teacher and a tramp, comedian Edward Aczel is an unlikely candidate for a hot property. But hot he is, thanks to the patronage of Jimmy Carr and a string of critically acclaimed runs at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Aczel's Black Box appearance has drawn the glitterati of the Belfast underground comedy scene. At least a dozen local stand-ups are here, chuckling knowingly at Aczel’s bizarro schtick. Cult tunesmith Duke Special is also here, perhaps intrigued by Aczel's claims to have been inspired by Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies.

Indeed, the wilfully gauche Aczel has more in common with art-rock or punk than with, say, Michael McIntyre. In fact, one of the ill-shapen comic’s most immediate bits – you can’t really call them 'gags' – takes a shot at the floppy-haired funnyman.

‘Michael McIntyre,’ Aczel mumbles. ‘What’s all that about?’ This is pretty much as straightforward as it gets with the performer that Time Out described – either ironically or after a knock on the head – as ‘Britain’s greatest entertainer’. If it’s quick-fire gags, whimsical musings or searing satire you’re after, this is very much the wrong gig.

Aczel’s show is entitled Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. It lumbers from SWOT analysis of the potential audience threat levels to a discussion of the career paths Aczel – who holds down a day job as a project manager for a marketing company – could have taken (rock star, ambassador, accountant, monk).

The comedian fumbles with scraps of A4 paper, refers to flip charts and even does a bit of singing. Most people are prepared to go with it, but some are getting restless. One well-oiled fellow shouts, ‘You’re not funny!’ Aczel simply pauses, stares blankly into the crowd, and then continues. This is 'anti-comedy' in its most resolute form.

By the end of the hour-long spectacle, the disruptive punter and his friends are loudly demanding their money back, much to the irritation of everyone around them. A couple of ladies remonstrate with them (their boyfriends look terrified), and it’s a tense scene for a while.

Thankfully, it stops short of exploding into serious violence, though fair play to compere Adam Laughlin – who delivers an energetic supporting set, as does fellow Ulster comic Ruaidhrí Ward – for branding the chief interrupter an expletive beginning with the letter 'c' from the stage. It gets the biggest cheer of the evening.

Those of us with more open minds aren’t quite sure what we’ve just seen, but we think we like it. Edward Aczel is average, a genius, a waste of time, the best night out ever and much, much more (and less, and none of this). By all means, check him out for yourself – just don’t expect to see him on Mock the Week or Live at the Apollo anytime soon.