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August 24 1999

Malcolm Hay

There are no more than a handful of performers in this country capable of mounting a successful solo show consisting of comic songs. On the strength of some storming performances this month on the Edinburgh Fringe, Mitch Benn has joined this elite band.

He’s a big man (think Henry VIII, then a shaggy modern version) with a voice powerful enough to bully the rowdiest crowd into submission. The nice thing is, though, that Benn relies more often than not on irony for his comic effects. Here’s a bloke who could easily have become a slam-bang singer peddling cheap crudities. He’s chosen a more intelligent approach instead.

That’s not to say his songs aren’t crowd pleasers. Naturally enough, sex rears its head in ballads such as “Rubber Woman” or the gloriously pathetic ditty where a plaintive male pleads forlornly for the chance (however brief and meaningless) to get his end away. In an even more ruthlessly critical vein there’s “Crap Shag”, already a Benn chestnut. but you also get lyrics that can only be described as deliberately unsexy on subjects like Llandudno. Benn works into the show some effective stand-up spiel as well. There’s a suitably weird account of jogging through the streets of Richmond accompanied by his personal trainer. Or an impressive tirade against the latest “Star Wars” toys because they make sounds - we’re raising a generation of kids, Benn complains, who won’t make their own silly noises.

What’s most impressivce about Benn’s attitude is his cheerful undermining of the craft he practises so well. in one stirring number (the intro goes “oh God no1 He’s got a guitar!”) he skewers all the worst features of mediocre stand-up comic singers. What’s more, he declares, “comedians, are, by and large, a bunch of ugly scary fucked-up people”. His début CD is called “The Unnecessary Mitch Benn”. But Benn is essential viewing.

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