Review – Rob Pue: A Pant Load
Most visiting comedians make an effort to learn a little about the town they’re in and work some local material into their set. It’s a nice gesture – it shows they give a shit, even if it’s only rarely funny. Usually, it’s a bit token and, in Adelaide, is typically a mention of the weather and some crack at Salisbury. So when I say that Rob Pue dropped some serious South Australian knowledge, it speaks to the Canadian’s professionalism. From the embedded coins on Rundle Street, to the local press situation (only one paper for a city of 1.5 million, he exclaimed, outraged), he was one of the most informed comics I’ve seen this Fringe. The man is confident, at ease in the slightly odd rounded room of the Ukiyo tent, and delivered an hour of material with unwavering aplomb.
Sadly, that hour of material struggled to elicit from me any laughs whatsoever. Pue is not intrinsically unlikeable, and when he talks about his young daughter it is easy to see the genuine affection he has for her. The problem, simply, is that his jokes just aren’t that funny. He struts about with the air of a shock jock, like he’s saying the things no one else dares speak aloud. When a joke ten minutes in got an ‘ooh’ and then a hush, he warned the crowd to buckle up, relishing at having made them uncomfortable. What he failed to understand was that the silence was not due to subject itself, but the fact that the joke just wasn’t very good.
The problem with most of Pue’s ‘edgy’ jokes is that the premises they are based on are fundamentally flawed. They are straw men arguments, caricatures of races or people built up to merely be knocked down with a misguided and simplistic punchline. Race, gender and sexuality can be fertile grounds for humour; in the right hands, a comedian can use your own innate perspectives against you, leaving you to reflect on your own biases while still laughing. The laughter, in the best instances, is not at the subjects of the joke but either at the expense of the comedian or yourself. Pue’s jokes are both poor and in poor taste because they are based on stereotypes and characterisations that any rational person knows is untrue.
For example, he asks at one point how a deaf school brings the kids in at the end of recess. The answer, to get monstrously over-invested in one tiny example, is: a) they ring a bell because not everyone at a deaf school is completely deaf; b) children can check the time and know when to return; c) children follow others and will see when some start to return to class; and d) teachers are supervising the recess and will go and get them when it’s time. I say this fully aware that this kind of analysis can be fairly said to have missed entirely the point of the joke.
Nevertheless, it must be mentioned in order to illustrate that the premise Pue chooses, the sheer concept of ‘how do you bring deaf kids in from recess?’ is so fundamentally broken, so obviously answered and so insulting to both deaf people and the audience, that it makes it impossible for even the sympathetic viewer to come along with him for the joke. The joke, by the way, which ends with him gumming gibberish in mockery of a deaf speaker. When that got muted audience response, he then made some comment to the effect of, “I guess that’s why deaf people can’t get stand-up.” An obnoxious statement both on its face and as a reply.
I must note that I believe Pue, who demonstrated both liberalism and support for equality during the show, is simply misguided rather than racist or homophobic. The trouble seems to be that despite wanting to deliver hard-hitting material about big issues, he is incapable of actually engaging with these topics from a place of genuine, human understanding of the people involved. He ping-pongs from vaguely transphobic comments about “hermaphroditic” Olympians, to advocating eugenics in order to breed the perfect human from the stereotypical strengths of each race, the gleeful look of ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ on his face never wavering. Frustratingly, at almost every instance, he never achieves anything resembling insight.
I don’t find it easy or particularly pleasurable to write this kind of thing. I’ve tried to avoid hoisting my own petard; Rob Pue is not a cartoonishly Machiavellian villain. He demonstrated impressive local knowledge, and presented a steady hour without faltering in the face of some underwhelmed audience members. It’s just such a shame that his actual material is so base, so inherently flawed, that it’s impossible to connect with anything he says.