Edinburgh Fringe review – James Acaster, Reset

A modern-day classic from Acaster

James Acaster Reset comedian

The Jimmy White of comedy is back for another year, and nothing – except maybe a show deemed to be marginally better than his – is gonna stop him from winning the top prize. With Reset, James Acaster takes his tally now to six brilliant, original shows in a row (ok, Yoko Ono one was slightly off). This one might even be his best. He’s in what music critics call an artist’s “imperial phase”, and if it doesn’t get at least an award nomination then I’m Beverly Craven.

Reset’s theme is fresh starts: how everyone wants one and how they’re not always a good thing. Normally when you write about a comic having a “theme”, it just means they talk about it, cleanly and directly. Acaster is operating on a different plane. He takes the idea of fresh starts and hits it from all angles – personal, political, cultural – and veers between the literal, the nonsensical and the metaphorical. All the “al”s. The fact that the EU referendum comes up is a complete surprise and yet makes perfect sense.

If you’ll excuse the gushing, the way the show morphs from one thing to another is like those murmurations of starlings that you sometimes get in adverts. And despite its constant shape-shifting there are discreet routine that you can pluck out and take away with you.

The highlights are pretty bloody numerous. It feels odd to pick bits out as it’s such an intricate show, with everything seemingly connected to everything else. But just to throw a few examples out there, there’s a standout routine on the British Museum and its haul of internationally stolen goods, and his politically loaded piece on window blinds is a beauty too. One of his biggest assets is the original observation. Time after time over the years Acaster has spoken about something that you’re amazed you’ve never noticed before – and that’s the true skill of observational comedy – but having made the observation, he never takes the predictable route. On this occasion it’s dividers in shop conveyer belts, and long weekends that get the treatment.

So much of what Acaster does is indirect, and in particular he’s not one to put his personal life front and centre of his shows. Quite the opposite, in fact. But Reset does eventually alight upon the subject of his life as a stand-up, its frustrations, his difficulties with it (although typically he communicates this in a heavily stylised way). In letting his guard down – just a bit – and allowing something of himself into the show, we have the killer blow.

There’ll always be people who don’t quite get on with Acaster’s clipped, mildly surreal style, but for me his combination of strange yet accessible is just right. But more broadly, Reset is by any measure a show out of the top drawer. If you want to know what it looks like to see a comic right at the top of their game, then go and see it.

5 stars
Review by Paul Fleckney

James Acaster, Reset is at the Pleasance Courtyard at various times (check for extra shows)

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