Innes McQuillin

Edinburgh Fringe review: Michael J Dolan, Miserable Guts

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With billing as “comedy’s bleak philosopher” it should be immediately clear that Michael J Dolan isn’t your average funny man.

True to type, the first thing he tells the audience is that he’s not done the work and doesn’t know why he’s come to the Fringe. All he really wants to do is stay home. Not that home provides him with any comfort in finding meaning and purpose in life.

It cleverly sets up the downbeat tone of the show, although there’s no show in Dolan’s business. His delivery is resolutely matter of fact: he’ll set off on a subject, go off at a tangent, meander down a blind alley and work back to where he started. To appear so haphazard takes considerable planning and no little skill to pull off.

Anyone who’s been in a relationship, felt lukewarm about their chosen career, owned a home, wanted/not wanted kids or had mental health issues will find resonance in Dolan’s narrative. Basically, life sucks and then you die.

Initially it’s all about him, his struggle with modern life and its expectations: it’s here he’s at his most compelling and funny. Subsequent diversions into more generic material on bizarre sex toys and comedians appearing in adverts feel more contrived and don’t reach the same level.

The show is an exposition of the journey Dolan’s on rather than an investigation looking for convenient conclusions and ready redemption. It’s a conceit the audience has to buy into early and, as their laughter testified, they did so.

If the only comedy currency is laughter, Dolan had us in the palm of his hand. From that promising beginning, the room fell increasingly quiet and the gaps between laughs grew as his set continued. His declaration that he wasn’t bothered about being a successful comedian was unfortunately timed and worked against him.

It can happen to the best, but the nature of Dolan’s shtick, which relies on him taking the audience with him, renders him more at risk if he hasn’t created the right vibe in the room.

That said, Dolan’s doing something intriguingly different. It’s tough, however, to be a master of the art of bleakness as a late thirty-something. He’s a work-in-progress and life experience will inevitably provide him with darker, more extreme and funnier material.

3 Stars

Date of live review: 16 August 2015 @ The Stand Comedy Club 4