Rhys James’s show is called Wiseboy, a title that perfectly suits his assured delivery and hint of swagger. His clever observational comedy, which centres mainly around his childhood, his parents and what it’s like to be a comedian, contains a refreshing scarcity of political jokes (though he couldn’t resist slipping the word “Trump” in once) and boatloads of promise. He manages to be young and fresh whilst making sure that his jokes do not go over the heads of members of older generations, as they are just as much about baby boomers and the housing market as they are about emojis and YouTube sensations.
James charms due to his self-awareness – he knows how white and middle-class and left-wing and privileged and typical he is, and it seems he also knows he’s cute: “yep, got a girlfriend, no refunds, soz,” he quips. Refreshingly, James uses all this self-awareness to talk about what he knows – from telling of his parents buying him an expensive drum kit to making up his own John Lewis advert, his comedy is drawn largely from his background. But this isn’t just your classic observational comedy (“You know, remote controls?”) – James does whole pieces on pretending his mother is a prostitute, or how he can’t properly say “CCTV”. That he doesn’t really stray from his world and that he at one point describes a situation as being “like something out of a Harold Pinter play” will appeal to some and not to others, but I greatly enjoyed it. His self-indulgence goes perhaps too far sometimes – even the self-deprecating jokes don’t really sound self-deprecating.
Rhys James is not controversial – he’s not going to shake things up and his comedy is about topics most likely familiar to his middle-class non-diverse audience, as he rightly points out. It’s not the whacky, colourful, rough-and-ready stuff you think of when you think of fringe theatre. But then, you could be forgiven for thinking of straight white men in their late twenties wearing Adidas trainers and a button-up shirt and holding a microphone when you think of fringe theatre. And James pulls it off perfectly.
Rhys James: Wiseboy is playing Pleasance Courtyard until August 27 th . For more information and tickets, see