He's big down under, but not edgy enough for the Edinburgh Fringe?
By any measure, Edinburgh’s Fringe is the world’s biggest comedy festival. 30 days, well over a thousand acts, millions of punters, performers from all across the globe… but still Northern Irish comics are as thin on the ground as creationists at a Bill Hicks screening.
Sure, this year’s Edinburgh line-up includes some new Northern Irish blood - Sean Hegarty’s Don't Be A Comedian In Northern Ireland While Drinking Buckfast Under A Bridge stands out in the 200 page-plus programme. But such up-and-comers are relegated to the backwaters of the ‘Free Fringe’.
When it comes to names in lights and paying bums on seats Northern Ireland only has one consistent Fringe hit – Belfast-born, honorary Aussie Jimeoin McKeown.
Down under Jimeoin is a bona fide star. His television shows, feature films and various other pet projects are some of the most popular items on Australian television: pretty impressive for a guy with a noticeable north coast drawl (he was raised in Portstewart) and a decidedly homespun comic style.
Entitled Something Smells Funny, his latest effort is a less than inspired mix of observational gags about domestic life and toilet humour, drawn mainly from previous sets. ‘Tricking someone into smelling something they don’t want to smell is the funniest thing in the world,' he announces at one point, to hearty laughs from the sizable – and rather leery – crowd inside the purple cow that houses Edinburgh’s iconic Udderbelly venue.
Since moving to Australia, Jimeoin has got himself a wife and three kids, and much of tonight’s routine draws on his domestic experiences. So we learn about the ‘joys of new bedsheets’, ‘great cups of tea’ and the horrors of forgetting to put the bins out: yet for a man who enters the stage to the sound of ACDC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ it all feels a little pedestrian.
At times Jimeoin struggles to fill his hour-long set. He has a definite gift for facial expressions, but too often the raising of an eyebrow or an extended bout of gurning appears in place of a killer punchline or a fully developed routine.
All of which is a shame, because Jimeoin certainly knows his way around a good yarn when he finds one. An excellent riff on how cheese will only ever cut at one speed regardless of knife or force ends up with a proper punchline that really hits home.
Somewhat surprisingly for a comedian who trades on little vignettes about life, family and home, Jimeoin gives precious little away about his background. He says ‘where I’m from’ at least half a dozen times without every talking about Northern Ireland in any detail.
Of course trading on your Northern Irishness is unlikely to win over too many friends on the comedy circuits of Australia and New Zealand, but for a comic that resorts too often to gags about national stereotypes a little introspection on his own nation’s psyche wouldn't have gone amiss.
At one stage Jimeoin sarcastically calls himself ‘edgy’, and while he is no one’s idea of an alternative comedian he could do with taking some chances. His first-rate performance skills and gift for physical comedy ensure the crowd leave smiling but Northern Ireland’s big Fringe draw is unlikely to leave too many thunderstruck.