Dave Fulton has made a name for himself in the U.K. as a plainspoken Yankee with a bounty of dark, silly stories. But on his new album, Fulton throws his fish-out-of-water act back into the pond by recounting his life in England to a stateside audience—a sort of Ulysses who’s survived the British pub scene and washed up again on American shores. Recorded in 2009 at Acme Comedy Company in Minneapolis, Based on a True Story proves that Fulton’s current stand-up persona exists not so much in opposition to British culture, but because of it.
As a veteran comic (who sounds far less grizzled than his cover art looks), Fulton has no qualms starting his set with a joke that bluntly contrasts the proper usage of “cunt” and “fanny.” Besides explaining why Brits would probably find the latter more offensive than the former, he also legitimately shocks the Minnesota audience with an Octomom reference that would make Rudy Ray Moore grin.
Cultural differences between America and England comprise a good chunk of the Idaho native’s set, which one could easily imagine working in any English-speaking country. His mocking of Canadians (“Mexicans with sweaters”) and various accents feels a bit too easy, but Fulton ultimately sells it with every eager syllable. Charmingly out of step and free of trendy pop-culture baggage, most of his best bits are casual stories—including a choice one about whipping kittens into a river, and how an Irish accent makes the anecdote funny while a German one turns it terrifying.
“Subsidizing My Career,” the longest and most autobiographical track, includes material from Fulton’s acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe performances. His matter-of-fact tales of drug-dealing and the ill-advised decisions that follow aren’t so much harrowing as head-smackingly absurd. The harsher stuff elicits groans from the audience, but to be fair they seem just as uncomfortable when he briefly veers into politics and race. Less successful is Fulton’s seemingly off-the-cuff “Public Service Announcement,” which unravels into an overlong Medicaid vs. Medicare screed with a harsh George W. Bush punchline.
The drunken, talkative crowd never derails Fulton’s performance, but the chatter and bottle-clanking is often distracting. The mic placement and sound mix truly make listeners feel like they’re at the show, for better or worse.
Then again, a staid, silent crowd would seem unsuitable for Fulton’s set, which basically comes down to an extended meditation on drinking culture. The material is at times nakedly direct, as if some guile or ten-dollar words would punch it up better for commercial presentation. But the boozy atmosphere is ultimately cushioning. And anyway, Fulton is clearly in that fabled spot that all young comics dream about—a seasoned pro who sounds like he’s effortlessly himself in all contexts. As the heartiest of those young comics may find, life isn’t any more comprehensible a quarter-century (or more) into a successful stand-up career. It’s just that a fearless, unvarnished outlook tends to produce complementary material. In Fulton’s case, it’s paid off handsomely both at home and abroad.