Show: Joe Sutherland: Toxic
Venue: Underbelly Bristo Square
Star Rating: ****
Reviewer: Amy King
It’s not often you go to a comedy show and leave it feeling like you’ve been sat in Spoons with a friend of a friend bonding over your shared love of Spice Girls and terrible towel-hanging habits. But with Joe Sutherland, that’s exactly what the hour of Toxic feels like.
From the get go, he’s all conversation and story, not one-liners or punchlines. Sitting in the front row, I felt part of a dialogue, not a passive bystander in the room. He builds a steady rapport with the audience through hilariously relatable observations and fascinating tales that delve into his childhood.
This show was exploratory and educational, but most importantly it was heart-warming. I wanted to invite him round for a cuppa and find out more about his nail polishes and his boyfriend and his grandma. The conversational style was perfect for the intimate venue, and his scathing attacks on certain former-BBC-now-internet car show hosts only made me like him more.
With sharp humour and a spritely energy (partially influenced by his pixie cut, probably), Sutherland has his audience wrapped round his little finger. We want to get to know him and his family. His grandma Mary (not her real name) is a particularly influential character, and to be honest I almost wished I was in her living room hearing her side of things – she would probably have a fair few stories of her own to share!
Identity is the crux of this show, and he covers a lot of ground in an hour – the monetary struggles of millennial life, his flexi-vegan status (he doesn’t feel guilty when he falls off the wagon – how 2018), gender politics (and the desperate need for a rebranding of “gender fluid” – it sounds like the result of some quality alone time) and sexuality.
Masculinity is the main focus of this narrative. We’re taken on a tour of Joe’s formative years, giggling at childhood games with the sole purpose of getting naked, and crying quietly over admissions of bullying and acceptance. There was no time to find somewhere to cry though (especially not the garden shed – we’re millennials after all), because Sutherland’s storytelling is quick-paced and hard-hitting, and you don’t want to miss a second of it, not even to hide your tears.
It was refreshing to hear a gay man delve into just how affected he has been by toxic masculinity and the ideas around “manliness”. Despite being the opposite of manly, his jokes about expectations and body image were massively influenced by society and his peers. His exploration of puberty’s effects on boys is fascinating. We often hear of how societal pressures induce eating disorders in many young girls, but the effects on boys – especially non-heterosexual boys – isn’t discussed nearly as openly. And while there was relief given as he cut through these tensions with humour and heart-warming anecdotes, the severity of his pain was still rattling in my ribcage long after the show was over.
Toxic was my first show at the Fringe (not counting ones I’ve had to see at work), and I honestly think it’ll be difficult to beat this hour of comedy. The brilliance was in the bare nakedness of it all. Cheeky and charming, but also brutally honest, Joe Sutherland is one to watch – especially this show.