What do you do if you are a comedian busily readying a very silly show for the Edinburgh Fringe when there is a mass shooting in the town you grew up in? This was the situation faced by Zach Zucker in July when a gunman murdered seven people in Highland Park, Illinois. Zucker was distraught. He knew the families of people who were shot as well as relatives of the killer.
For a while he considered junking the original show, Spectacular Industry Showcase, and completely rewriting it. In the end he has subtly shifted things around so that there are references one might pick up if aware of the back story, a reference to right wing politics here or a line about a “last shot at fame” there. But if Highland Park casts a shadow for those in the know, he is foremost a comedian and the main attraction here remains high-octane absurdist humour.
This charismatic performer is an alumnus of Ècole Philippe Gaulier in France, where Emma Thompson and Sacha Baron Cohen previously cut their clowning teeth. He is also very much a graduate of the Robin Williams school of non-stop riffing. He constantly channels characters and accents, pulling faces and generally generating so much energy you could slash your power bills if only you could plug into Zucker.
The gig finds him playing a Hollywood wannabe imagining he is performing to an audience of entertainment movers and shakers. He races up and down the aisles, hangs from the light fixings, sings and dances and basically does anything he can to hold your attention. One moment he is all Vegas Rat Pack cool, the next he is a deranged Spanish lounge lizard called Tony Baloney, real name Antonio Balonio.
In less skilled hands this could all feel desperate in a so-bad-he-is-bad way rather than a so-bad-he-is-brilliant way. But Zucker, sparkly shirt split to the waist, is a master of his craft, teasing the crowd, making intentionally corny jokes about fans’ clothes (“cargo pants? car go vroom”) and getting the balance just right between pathos and focus-pulling arrogance.
As is mandatory with Edinburgh shows, there is a sad sidebar which pulls everything together. Towards the end Zucker sings about how he is a wandering troubadour, always packing his bags, always moving on, never really having a home. Given recent events that have shaken him this comes with extra emotion.
It is not quite the finish though. There are still some rubber-limbed hip hop shapes to throw. He calls this updated version of his show “non-political politicised”, but at heart Zucker is a clown. And observing strict clown protocol he has to leave the audience laughing..
Monkey Barrel, to August 28; edfringe.com