Ben Van Der Velde: Barbarians

Thu 4th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Frances Ball

at 21:53 on 7th Aug 2016

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There is always a little apprehension surrounding the Free Fringe, and Ben van der Velde bounds into the room exuding a kind of nervous energy. There is no question of nerves getting to him, though, as he launches into his show and makes the energy in the room electric.

The room itself is packed, and the crowd is varied – he uses the disparity of people in the room to his advantage, addressing individuals in a gently mocking but not unfair way. I felt that he balanced his stand-up act perfectly, in that the main thread of gags running through it is intelligent, and his subject holds up well to being mined throughout the show. His spontaneous interaction with the crowd is as good as his written lines, and this is an obviously quick witted man performing fantastic anecdotal style comedy. His delivery is faultless, he is a natural – I was in stitches throughout the show, laughing along with the fifty-strong crowd.

Van der Velde takes every topic that is taboo to talk about at a dinner party and lays it out on the table to laugh at, turning lazy stereotypes and political messes into biting, personal, satire. Religion takes a hard hit in the show, but it is not crudely bludgeoned, it is just addressed in an intelligent, innovative way. He does rely quite heavily on his own Jewish identity to provide a kind of insurance against his Jewish-based jokes, but they are self deprecating enough and eventually just about safe enough to steer clear of being too unacceptable. That is not to say that he is just a Frankie Boyle of the Free Fringe. He is clever, not cruel, and he makes you laugh, not “write an angry letter to the Guardian”, as he suggests might happen.

Stand-up is brutal, and it takes some nerve and some sheer talent to do it well. Van der Velde has talent in spades; he had me laughing the whole way through the piece. It is a definite gem of the Fringe, let alone the Free Fringe, so go while you can and enjoy his sharp, observant and hilarious style. Just don't bring it up at a dinner party.

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Una O'Sullivan

at 10:18 on 8th Aug 2016

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Ben Van der Velde’s latest stand-up show is a litany of astute observations on how our glossy veneer of cosmopolitanism is simply a mask for our inner barbarian. At the centre of the show is the recognition that, as everyone is descended from the barbaric gene pool of Genghis Khan, all our pretences to the urbanised could be shot down. A great gift for storytelling captivates the audience’s attention for the entire hour, and he triggers laughter across a wide range of topics.

Joke themes centre around Van der Velde’s Jewish background, current affairs, and personal stories of classic self-deprecative humour. The audience was clearly surprised by how far he is willing to go in joking about Jews— a skit on circumcision goes down really well, but several anecdotes about Holocaust faux-pas and encounters with neo-Nazis provoke discomfort amongst some audience members. Political anger is visible behind many of his jokes, and at times perhaps the raw feeling behind the cynicism comes through a little too much. His show deals boldly with topics such as racial prejudices and stereotypes, and he is unafraid of pushing the envelope further than it’s usually pushed.

The audience in the pub venue were largely middle aged or older, and there were several wittily pointed jokes directed towards right-wing older folk. It would be nice to see more polish around the changes between topics- Van der Velde tends to let his sentences trail off, and then begin the next joke with a flurry of “this is how it happened.” This roughness around the edges is part of the charm of his honest comedy, yet streamlining these transitions would lend extra shine to the act.

All in all, for a Free Fringe event, ‘Barbarians’ is a cut above most in its consistently high standard. The comic delivery is on point, the humour is original, and his quick rapport with audience members gives an impressive energy to this spirited performance.

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