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Ciarán Bartlett: Machine Gun of Filth : Reviews 2023 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide

Jun 28, 2023

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Ciarán Bartlett's a strong late-night booking, a roistering showman with more strings to his act than his impressive guitar-playing. The West Belfast man is aggressively charismatic, cheerily extracting personal details from his front rows, fumingly airing his grievances and bluntly retaining the threat that he won't suffer any fools with his instrument, aka the Machine Gun of Filth, poised to smack anyone who displeases him about the head.

Tales of depravity and desolation are a solid suit too, his abiding anecdote a deliciously dirty, incrementally established account of how his bowel issues led to an unfortunate misunderstanding on Portadown beach.

A self-described 'big unit' with 'tiny hands', he's endured mockery about his appearance all his life, so fronts up about it himself and gives back with interest the jibes he's absorbed. Through it all, he's grandstanding about his comedic and musical abilities, with some justification, sneering at the performers he doesn't rate, gripping the audience in his pudgy fists and not letting them go.

His superior patter and capacity to whip up a crowd notwithstanding, enjoyment of him ultimately comes down to one thing, your tolerance for pop hits with rewritten lyrics or with radical new contexts.

Make no mistake, he's one of the best at this, never lingering too long once the initial gag is made, rarely stretching beyond a chorus. And his default tone is boundary-nudging darkness, with The Killers reimagined from the perspective of Josef Fritzl's daughter, Prince Andrew filtered through Toto and Natalie Imbruglia's biggest track flipped into a bleak, visceral image that teeters on the edge of misogyny.

However, the fact remains that the gags start to become predictable as your mind races ahead from the first chord. There are varying points at which different pockets of the room identify the jokes, ensuring the laughter rolls around in waves. But there's a Pavlovian aspect too, which he sort of acknowledges in an aside where he claims a Derren Brown-like ability for programming those watching.

He's got a pretty sweeping repertoire, capable of interjecting James Brown yelps and other little impressions. And he pummels everyone from Ed Sheeran to Lizzo with his blunt disdain. Along the way, he takes some compelling detours, eavesdropping on a conversation in a Belfast fish and chip shop, speculating on the existential happiness of happy hardcore intellectual lightweights Scooter.

Sustaining a running commentary on the success of the gig, Bartlett is too front-foot and juggernaut of an act to fail, too adept with an ad-lib and just generally assured at threading his attractive blend of self-deprecating stories and bellicose slams of whatever ticks him off. His signature trick is subject to diminishing returns, though, and he's going to need more if he wants to truly stand out.

Review date: 28 Aug 2023 Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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