Review – Tom Shillue, Impossible

Straight outta Boston comes this Kent Brockman sound-a-like who knows how to spin a yarn

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A high-ceilinged room that’s sparsely attended is hard to get rocking, and Tom Shillue isn’t the sort of “play it big” comedian to fill all that space by himself. So tonight’s gig was never going to be a floor-shaker. However, Shillue does have a lovely show, and is someone I’d like to see again in another context (that’s not an oblique reference to a date, I’m talking about a comedy context).

Shillue is from the Boston suburbs, soft of face and gentle of manner. He has a near-permanent smile and frequently sounds like Kent Brockman. The atmos he creates on the night I attend is not uproarious in laughter, but nonetheless contented and appreciative.

He has a strong, stand-uppy opening, which yields to an hour of storytelling comedy, told in a firm but friendly manner. His stories are wonderfully rendered personal anecdotes which he spins and spins, ever drawn to the dramatic and the poetic (it makes sense that Daniel Kitson is a fan). There are only three of them in the whole show because they last so long. One is about flying paper aeroplanes with a college roommate, another about cutting loose in downtown Manhattan when it was a dangerous place to be.

But this is not, I repeat not, whimsy. It seems that Shillue is telling these stories to make a point, and that gives the show a slightly belligerent, almost defensive edge, behind the smile. And I liked that extra dimension to him as a comic. The paper aeroplanes tale, for example, is in aid of telling people that coincidences are bollocks – and that his brother had the probability data to prove it. The third story, loosely about his disabled (my word)/retarded (his word) uncle Bobby, is part of a wider argument against the use of politically correct language (one that’s based on his experiences rather than being a Clarkson-esque rant).

So it’s unsentimental yet big-hearted, and that’s not a combination you often see among British comics. Shillue isn’t someone who is relentlessly chasing gags, so as a straight storytelling show it would be rather wonderful; as a comedy show it doesn’t scale those heights.

3.5 stars
Review written by Paul Fleckney

• Tom Shillue: Impossible is at 7.30pm at the Assembly Rooms

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