With a title like Appealing to the Mainstream, there was no chance that Brent Weinbach was going to deliver anything other than his trademark obscure, offbeat and sometimes crowd-unfriendly material. Known in the U.S. for his peculiarity, Weinbach’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe show is the perfect encapsulation of both his quirky brilliance and his sometimes off-putting stubbornness.
Weinbach is a naturally gifted physical comedian, though he tends to hide it within absurdist riffs and elaborate stories. He’s also a fan of the meta-joke, favoring impressions within impressions. (At one point, one of his vague, ethnic characters tells his own joke back to him.) When he veers into material that’s dirty or juvenile, the audience reaction tends more toward awkward giggles than hearty laughs, with disbelieving gasps of “Oh my God,” and “What the fuck?” thrown in for good measure.
Fans of absurdity will find plenty to love in Weinbach’s deconstructionist approach to comedy; anyone looking for straight stand up will be turned off, including the several walkouts at the performance I attended. It’s not hard to see why: From an extended bit about the sexiness of smooth jazz to a long, obscene joke supposedly borrowed from an “urban” comic, Weinbach couldn’t be further from a crowd pleaser if he tried. There’s not a thin bit that he can’t extend by another five minutes, nor a premise he can’t layer into confusing oblivion.
There are whole sections of his act that are impossible to describe—how we ever get to the point where he stands, leg up on a stool, kissing his own calf muscle, is surely a mystery to the crowd. And yet the audience mostly goes with him, indulging his weirdness and participating in his numerous interactive bits. He references his own supposed creepiness multiple times during the show, and makes a point of promising any female audience members that he won’t be touching them if they join him onstage.
But whether he’s co-opting the crowd into providing the sound effects for a bathroom-related bit, or finishing things up with a bizarre pseudo-strip routine masquerading as Japanese modern dance, it’s undeniable that former Andy Kaufman Award winner Weinbach is in an orbit of his own. He’s not the funniest act in Edinburgh, and he’s far from the type of comic one could recommend easily, but his style, which he regularly refers to as “stupid” and “postmodern,” is unlikely to be forgotten. In a sweaty basement venue that feels like an ad-hoc performance space, he’s doing something entirely unique, with predictably mixed results. Here’s hoping he never makes an honest attempt at the mainstream.