We probably need more comedians who are willing to lead us away from the increasingly unpleasant Bristo Square and guide us elsewhere. In this case to the safe haven of an Asian trinket shop on Nicolson Street, where he sits us down on cushions in order for us to listen to him talk about his ideal funeral for an hour. The experience was certainly homely; all that was missing was a cup of tea.
At points I felt like O’Toole was my nervous yet endearingly enthusiastic younger cousin. His sheer likeability meant that the audience were all willing to indulge him as he went through descriptions of funeral ceremonies and cucumber sandwiches; but more often than not it was his personality we were warming to rather than the substance of his show. Because he had casually chatted to us on our walk from the Underbelly Box Office to the mysterious shop, once we were all seated and the show began, it became hard for him to re-establish the distance from the audience that his material seemed to demand.
The piece broke down precisely because of the more relaxed environment he had created. The fact that he then had to perform a professional comedy show within this environment exerted its own pressures and this seemed to be as jarring for him as it was for the audience.
O’Toole should be respected for attempting to make his show more intimate than the normal stand-up experience. It’s an original approach that often does work for him. His meanderings on topics such as religion were often very interesting, he threw in a few nice musical numbers, and had some strong punchlines. However, the overall quality of his material needs to be tightened if he is to make this method of performance fully succeed. Many of the laughs that he received came not so much from a place of genuine amusement, rather they seemed to be more for him as a performer: you could sense the audience wishing him well throughout.
The show itself was original and gimmick-free, and those with a higher tolerance for whimsy may enjoy it very much indeed. O’Toole is certainly a name to watch (his other show, Tea with Conor O’Toole may be worth checking out); but he needs to work on his material – a warm and likeable demeanour will only carry him so far.