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.
I’m not usually a fan of crowd work at comedy gigs, because it’s a mixed bag. There can be too many loose ends and jokes that fall flat, wasting the precious time you have to make the audience like you and your material. However, Neil Delamere has mastered the art of crowd work to the point that it’s flawlessly woven into his fringe show. It’s not often that you’ll get someone that comes out to do the fringe that has so much fun joking with the audience, their actual fringe material becomes barely distinguishable amongst the improvisation.
The show is framed around a story about helping his father deliver meals on wheels to pensioners in Ireland, who at this point is an 82 year old man himself. Whilst telling us about the weirdos and ultra-religious people he delivers food to, he is able to jump around and go off on tangents without going on too long, without straying far from the structure of the show. He enjoys riffing on the audience’s reactions and their flustered answers to his questions, and because you can see his delight it makes the experience a lot more comfortable. He slides into this free-spirited approach on riffing by telling everyone not to be worried if he talks to them, “we’re only having the craic”. I can get behind this method, having spent too many nights cringing in the back of a comedy club when the comic chats up the audience.
Neil is your stereotypical fast talking Irishman, but it’s probably cause of his quick wit trying pushing out the jokes as fast he can. The jokes come so rapidly at some points I didn’t think I would be able to catch up with him. As the show goes on, Neil divulges more about his life in Ireland and about his childhood where the threat of the IRA could be quashed by getting your dad to join Al Qaeda. His main story about his delivery journey doesn’t seem to be anything more than a comedy vehicle, until in the end he ties it all together in a rewarding finale. It’s a performance that heavily relies on but also benefits from the use of improv, using it as a buffer to make his own jokes sound unbelievable. It’s also a show about getting older and dealing with how you cope with the inevitable – your parents getting too old to deliver meals to other old people.
Neil Delamere: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pensioner is a great show because it doesn’t feel rigid at all. It’s a show that has the promise of something fresh and original each night along with his prepared fringe material. The guy is genuinely affable, but funny too – he’s not pandering to anyone, you can see that the act is what it is, a hysterical hour with a hilarious comedian.
Neil Delamere is on at Gilded Balloon at the Museum (Venue 64), 21:00
Aug 11-14, 16-27