Brendan Burns

Norwich Playhouse

Brendan Burns' reputation for angry, confrontational stand-up paints him, not inaccurately, as a frenzied hybrid of Lenny Bruce and Looney Tunes' Tasmanian Devil. But if the Australian's triumph at this year's Edinburgh Fringe suggests he has honed his larrikin shtick to perfection, it also poses the question - is there much more going on beneath the bluster?

After a mini-rant about Russell Brand's unfathomable animal magnetism ('He looks like the personification of hepatitis!'), Burns addresses Islamic terrorism. As a first foray into the show's general theme - the ludicrousness of self-righteous moral outrage - the routine is reasonably successful. But it highlights the Aussie's sole weakness - he will insist on having his cake and eating it. So, having scornfully dismissed the concept of national pride, he then appeals to notions of British stoicism in the face of terrorist attack.

However, pacing the stage with a demonic grin, he expertly controls the audience's tension throughout, the biggest laughs gaining (as when he fixes on Liverpool as a target for his invective) a slightly hysterical edge from a sense that we at least have been spared. For those who see stand-up comedy as a kind of feral blood sport, Burns is the only real contender for king of the jungle - often uncomfortable, frequently hilarious and never boring.

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