In the case of Will Franken, America’s loss is the UK’s gain. The San Francisco journeyman earned unanimous raves with his 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut, Things We Did Before Reality; he subsequently relocated to London this part February.
Hard to blame him, really. Franken is lightning quick, biting and, as he’s the first to admit, unapologetically bitter. Instead of cut-and-dry bits or stock catchphrases, he deftly weaves the briefest of character vignettes into (and throughout) each other, inimitable cultural commentary evolving, pivoting and shape-shifting from one moment to the next. Stylistically he falls into a No Man’s Land between the fortified borders of stand up, sketch and improv, defying pat, marketable classification, let alone effortless digestion. He may be wholly unique and unquestionably profound, but mainstream Franken is decidedly not.
Concert to Benefit the Victims of My Father is greater than the sum of its parts…and there are myriad parts, all of them moving. Franken slips seamlessly between subjects and settings in a fraction of the time it takes an average comic to lay the foundations of a solid chunk. Careening through a markedly different world every two minutes or so, his London cabbie, Welsh barmaid, BBC janitor, double-talking senator, medication-shilling David Bowie, even former Vice President Al Gore (who now bemoans the effects of “global rounding”) reveal inconvenient truths about widespread complacency in the face of mounting societal woes.
He’s far more a conceptual than traditional storyteller, and though he utilizes accents, props, illustrations, musical cues and even audience plants, Franken doesn’t shy away from the personal. Shortly after taking the Pleasance Dome stage for his late-afternoon hour—between mocking comedy classes and satirizing Hollywood via a script reading between Daniel Day-Lewis and a man with cerebral palsy—he broke the fourth wall with a grin: “I’ll do anything for a laugh at 5:40.” With eight minutes remaining he dropped all pretense and turned confessional again, copping to a cynical attitude as the Fringe lumbered into the homestretch, wondering if Broadway Baby’s negative review of Concert had been written by an actual baby and detailing how his poorly-funded festival diet left him “dying of cheese pains.”
Franken weighed aloud the option of chucking his material and doing nothing more than riffing for the last five afternoons of his run, then departed for a best-of showcase on which he was booked to appear. The sun may have been hours from setting and his mood rapidly sinking, but Franken’s engagement was mesmerizing and his fervor contagious. If there’s any meritocratic justice, his move to England means his comedic call to arms will only grow louder and more powerful from here on out.