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Lee Mack: ‘Going Out’ – Festival Theatre

I was determined I would not enjoy the show. Well, perhaps determined is too strong, but I wasn’t expecting a lot. Lee Mack will always for me be that chap from Comedy Lab who has been trying to make it big for just a little too long. Now, of course, he has had a successful tour and will be airing the fourth series of his BBC3 sit-com, Not Going Out, very soon; so one could say he has made it big. Maybe it’s the lack of a Fringe award that has stayed my nodding head from acknowledging Mack’s work. I suppose I have to look through that perrier prism of my youth, I’m an Edinburgh lad and have suffered extreme over-exposure to the Festival scene over the years. I can’t deny my critic roots, and I am certainly biased toward this little comedy festival of ours. In any case, I was expecting something really rather ordinary.

I enjoyed the show, let us get that out the way first and foremost. In a strange way though, Mack was still rather ordinary. His humour is at times vulgar, and at other points plainly rooted in his Pontin’s background. Stand-alone jokes are, sometimes clumsily, slotted into the more free-flowing routine he has been polishing on this sell-out tour of UK venues. If I had one glaring criticism,  it was that the affair went on too long. His best material came early doors and after the warm-up was followed by an interval, I can see why. The material dipped in the middle and in fairness, it ended on a low. Some of this material is plainly not going to make the cut for his Fringe show and it is to that I am sure he is looking.

The crowd were obviously convinced Mack fans, and that helped him out a great deal. For periods early in his routine he bounced happily off the audience, poking fun at regional stereotypes, and I was chuckling away with ease.  That probably says more about myself, the small coterie of Newcastle folk in the crowd and the general ease of an Edinburgh crowd in March. A Lancastrian by birth, Mack is well known for his disdain of the London-based set. He is something of a northern martyr perhaps, but he certainly has a fairly comfortable grasp of the Scots’ accent and he got a lot of laughs from antagonising his crowd. A good setup for the coming festival, I imagine, where getting a rise out of the crowd is often the extra edge that makes good material into award-winning comedy.

What surprised most though was the fact that Mack seemed to stradle the old school nuances of sketch-based jokes with observational improvisation usually lacking from his TV appearances. He carried the air of someone who had lifted a gong and was on a victory lap. The BBC deal must be fuelling him a great deal, but I had not entirely expected such an assured performance, given that he can often look out of his depth on panel shows. Like the unpopular kid at a birthday party, invited by your parents, and trying desperatley to fit in. I imagine a lot of comedians relate to that role from an early age, but in the company of the metronomic Frankie Boyle, or the erudite David Mitchell, Mack had always struck me as something of an also-ran.

If he were to distill this routine down and stage it up here in August, he could well be in the running for the top prize. That remains to be seen however. There are a lot of acts that break at the festival, and some that burn slowly for many years. Mack may be the latter, but he has produced a surprisingly enjoyable show.

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