REVIEW: Alex Kealy: Rationale, Edinburgh Fringe 2019 ★★★★☆

“The only drug I’ve ever been addicted to is moral outrage.”

As I extolled in my review of Trump: The Musical, political comedy is quite hard to do, frequently focusing on surface-level humour about character and its characteristics rather than policy and ideology. It is tiresome and lazy; anybody can take the piss out of Donald Trump looking like a wotsit, or how Boris Johnson’s hair is as messy as his romantic relationships, or Theresa May somehow displaying less emotional intelligence than HAL. See? None of those was funny, so they’re about as good as the jokes you’ll see in most political comedy.

This is what makes Alex Kealy a breath of fresh air. Throughout his set, Kealy employs whip-smart wit to deconstruct the current political reality as well as the inherent flaws of figures and movements from all over the political spectrum: Jeremy Corbyn, the People’s Vote campaign, Priti Patel (“has done a non-zero amount of treason”), the list goes on. His own political beliefs – soft left, essentially – are made abundantly clear, but at no point does the gig become a lecture for those not-so inclined.

Yet it nonetheless feels like, at points, a tutorial in social analysis, encompassing disciplines from political science to real science, aided by Kealy’s zippy physicality (yes that is an adjective I’ve used and yes it is a compliment) and rapid delivery. This can make the set seem rambling and sprawling at times, but it always gets back on track quickly enough. During this particular show, unexpected audience applause made him forget the order of his set, the kind of hell-drenched night terror that all performers fear. It could have easily gone extremely badly – but Kealy saves it.

As the title of Rationale suggests, the entire set is framed around rational choice theory and how humans frequently don’t abide by it, particularly within politics. As the opening quotation outlines, Kealy’s argument is that we have become ever more addicted to outrage and superiority in our convictions which heightens irrational behaviour (“I’d rather be right than happy” also fitting the bill). One example is the number of ardent Remainers who are quite happy that the country is in the toilet because they’ve been proven right. It’s irrational to want your home country’s economy and political system to devolve into chaos (chaos that will absolutely fucking explode on October 31st), but we’re nonetheless emotional creatures, and sometimes it just feels better to be right.

It also feels very good to watch Alex Kealy: Rationale, which is genuinely extremely funny, and I cannot recommend it enough. He is performing at Just the Tonic at the Caves, 18:40, until August 25th.

Filmmaker. Casual Reviewer.