REVIEW: Uther Dean: My Fat/Sad (NZ International Comedy Festival)

Review by Nathan Joe

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A consummate craftsmen, Uther Dean’s writing glows with a self-awareness and wit that is rare in standup. It doesn’t always make for the most obviously funny jokes, but there’s a cleverness that is inarguable.

Essentially two shows wrapped in one, Dean opens the first half with Fat and then finishes off with Sad. There’s a neatness to the structure which is effective, and by juxtaposing them he creates two slightly separate acts with their own standalone ideas, rather than a single show about being fat and sad. While it might seem unnecessary to delineate the two, it’s this very formal excess and self-awareness that gives Dean his unique flavour.

At times, there’s a cockiness to his self-awareness. Often he’ll signal and signpost what he’s doing, pointing out the irony or meta-ness, but it’s also performed with the confidence of a seasoned veteran that makes it work. Cockiness with the perfect amount of self-deprecation.

The balance between comedy and seriousness feels askew at times, hovering in the zone of discomfort but not quite settling for a particular tone. Fat, in particular, can veer into the realm of ranting, seething with anger rather than humour or insightful observation. Sad, on the other hand, toys with audience expectations more expertly; the inventiveness and unexpectedness of the jokes land more consistently.

If his idiosyncratic style has any drawbacks, its that the show sometimes feels like it could buckle under Dean’s own scrutiny – as if the whole script could be annotated and footnoted, every joke highlighted and every reference explained.

Dean loves to throw esoteric strands and references into the show. Brief flashes of subtle showmanship that might seem self-indulgent but are grounded in astounding specificity. After all, It’s not often you hear RuPaul’s Drag Race and Rashomon mentioned in the same joke. This is not your typical stand-up performance, but, then again, he’s no ordinary comedian.

Uther Dean plays The Basement until 28 April. 

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