On the surface, ‘Bite Me’ seems like a comfortable comedy show to go to. Joanne McNally is already there when you walk in, cracking jokes with the audience and getting people settled. It continues in this casual manner as she gives us a little bit of her backstory, dropping in hints that she has had her battles with addiction and illness. The show stays light as Joanne does a call and response bit with her current therapist and her inner demon who sounds a lot like Louie Walsh, but at a certain point it falls off a cliff edge into a dark territory.
It’s not claimed anywhere that this is an attempt to make bulimia funny, although it does manage to make some elements comical through McNally’s talented storytelling. Somewhere in the first half though, the material becomes so dark that the laughs die out and it becomes more of a one woman show. The show is funny all throughout, even when dealing with issues like getting arrested shoplifting cakes and hoarding bags of vomit, but it is so shocking that the audience might not know if it’s okay to laugh.
This is a dark show that explores the performer’s battle with bulimia, dissecting the impact that it has on a person’s mental health. Joanne asks at the top of the show if anyone has lost their mind and gone properly crazy before – this is her story of how her eating disorder made her crazy. There’s no logic to some of your thoughts and you become addicted to some of your habits in unhealthy ways. This show might not be a laugh every second, but it’s certainly something that I’ve never seen before. McNally is a talented comedian, but this is more like a one woman show helmed by a funny person.
It’s a scary picture of mental illness and admitting your problems, in a way that’s very memorable and uplifting in a way. It was kind of an eye opener as well, seeing as I didn’t really know much about bulimia beforehand. When I came out and told someone about the show, they told me they had practiced bulimia for a time because it was ‘cool’ and it didn’t have the mental illness connotations we have of it today. After seeing ‘Bite Me’ I realised that this story can happen to anyone if they let it – and I’m glad I saw Joanne’s perspective through her show. It might be tough and unflinching in its brutal depiction of the illness, but it’s probably the realest show I’ve seen on the fringe in a couple years.
Joanne McNally: Bite Me is on at the Assembly Roxy (Venue 139), 18:20 Aug 21-28