Rob Oldham, who was winner of the Amused Moose Breakthrough Comic of 2017, comes to Edinburgh for his debut hour of stand-up. Oldham is performing at the Pleasance, and he’s in good company with so many wonderful young comic acts at the venue this year, including the Pin (after their first full series on Radio 4).
The set unfolds in multiple directions – there’s a journey from the past (angsty teen radicalism and university foul-ups) to the present (Brexit and anti-Semitism on the Left) and then into the future, with some snarky takes on technological change. All fairly conventional material, you might think, but it’s full of finely wrought observations – some very funny satire here of the annual Guardian piece ‘despatches from [insert random Northern town here]’, for example.
The tone of the politics material is suggestive rather than preachy. We get the sense that Oldham is working things out as he goes, all the while trying to puncture the pomposity of the made-up mind, of the cringey sincerity of politics obsessives. We find ourselves at a party at 3am confronted by a ‘woke’ berk sounding off about Israel, and then we’re off to Mexico backpacking, where a Trump supporter gets rather confused about what is and what isn’t in the American constitution…
Where Oldham really breaks into new territory is his use of ‘tonal prose poems’ set to music and a kind of deadpan, drone voice as he takes us through the pure naffness of the early noughties and a terrifyingly awkward first night of Freshers.
I’ve seen stand-up that dramatises musical obsession – Kieran Hodgson’s extraordinary 2016 Fringe show ‘Maestro’, an hour dedicated to Gustav Mahler, made to inject a comedic spirit into the po-faced seriousness of Mahler’s cult fandom – but Oldham shows that there’s no reason why it can’t work the other way, deftly elevating the conventional rhythms of the stand-up ‘routine’ into a different beast altogether.
There’s an obvious sophistication in the way in which Oldham handles the raw comedic material. But we also get a set that’s got real heart and that affords an unusual level of insight into the comic’s inner world. We are given the sense of a mind that is simultaneously in constant motion, tracking back and forth between the past and the future, entranced by its own powers of imagination and description, but we are given too a kind of sense of torpor, stuck in the dulled present – in that limbo space of being in your early twenties, an adult but not quite, a talented comedian but not – yet – an established presence on the scene.