There are some comedy shows that aim to dazzle an audience with wit and brilliance. Then there are others that slap you in the face with the same resounding smack a wet turkey might make when it’s swung against your tender, well-defined cheekbone—it injures your dignity, but you laugh hard anyway. The Life and Death of Socrates (No Relation) sits firmly within the latter group.
Joel Tito (of the Vigilantelope comedy group) plays Socrates, a regular sadsack with a famous namesake. It’s the perfect vehicle to showcase the next hour of absurdist comedy, which shows promise from a comedian unafraid to go wherever imaginative humour dictates.
The plot, where there is one, is thin on the ground but supplies enough fuel to keep the performance moving along. Basically, Socrates will die. Rather than defend him, the show spends most of the time explaining exactly why this poor sod needs to be wiped off the face of the Earth.
This is a story that has been done before; it’s the perennial one-man-show concept of a loner who lives alone and acts as a metaphorical punching bag for any comedian able to milk the desperate, pathetic look. I’m not sure whether he’ll take it as a compliment, but Tito does this well.
The mute Socrates is also your standard comedy-character weirdo. For instance, he instigates an uncomfortably sexual relationship with an oscillating fan during a house party at which he is the only guest. He also organises an auction of his completely plagiarised manuscript, during which he can only mash the keypad of his phone in response to the queries the auctioneer calls him to discuss.
By the end of the second half, the character has been well and truly wrung dry of all comedic possibility, with the final scene of this section illustrative of a refreshing attempt to perhaps turn the whole story of pre-destined death on its head (even if the twist is not altogether that shocking). What is confusing is the strange Japanese chatterbox who bookends the show. He’s completely unrelated to the main story and not an altogether convincing crowd warmer.
Without getting too eager, The Trial and Death of Socrates (No Relation) reminds me of the kind of closeted comedic universes championed by Tony Martin in his radio show Get This. Where Martin has donkeys parading as judges and recurring sound-based slapstick gags, Tito has angry priests battling soundboard technicians, sexy fans and flagellation by slap-band.
There’s no doubt that Tito has stage presence and an excellent knack for improvisation, which makes awkward silences rather the reverse. With his current hirsute look, he also vaguely resembles Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame, which is a nice connection to draw if you’re looking for comedy of a similar, silly vein. Still, there are weaknesses to the show; the relatively strong structure that shapes the show from the outset slips when the comedy descends further into fantastical anarchy in the second half.
Fortunately, Socrates is redeemed by a veritable pile-on of clever, recurring gags that emphasise the ridiculous nature of the comedy on display. But if none of these things sound appealing to you, it would be best to avoid wet turkeys at all cost.
The Life and Death of Socrates (No Relation) will be playing at the Melbourne Fringe until 14th October at Tuxedo Cat.