sun 08/12/2019

Edinburgh Fringe: Magnus Betner | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe: Magnus Betner

Edinburgh Fringe: Magnus Betner

Controversial Swedish comic plunges into the heart of darkness

Magnus Betner: 'I might look like a neo-Nazi but I’m one of the good guys'

Magnus Betner, Assembly Rooms ****

 

Here is the news: dismemberment, suicide bombers, industrial-strength Japanese porn, paedophilia and the descent of Julian Assange from hero to zero. The son of a priest and a superstar in his homeland, Swedish comic Betner is drawn to the dark stuff (come to think of it, there’s not much of a leap between Betner and bête noire), and his show latched on to the mood of post-Olympics comedown and held fast.

“Show” is really the wrong word. Insisting he would rather die than do the same material every night, Betner places himself firmly as a comic outsider: there is, early on, a colossal slap down of Michael McIntyre, and he is acidly dismissive of the fringe obsession with awards and silly titles.

Honest, unsettling, and at times brilliantly observed, this is comedy as catharsis

Betraying none of the ingratiating "love-me" shtick of most comedians, he spent much of the opening 20 minutes of last night’s gig urging his audience to leave. The couple in front of me eventually obliged, but it was hard to see why. Shaven-headed and heavily tattooed, Betner has been pegged as the bad boy of this year’s fringe, but he’s not really all that controversial. Although his subjects are uncompromising, ranging from “black Aids” to the sliding scale of bestiality, he points out that “I might look like a neo-Nazi but I’m one of the good guys”.

And he is, but he’s more than that. Betner is expert at chipping away at cosy consensus to the point where he exposes truths that are not only uncomfortable but also thought-provoking and true. Showing an admirable commitment to topicality, he refused to take the easy line on Pussy Riot’s conviction, and was terrific on liberal tweet fatigue – “I did my best for Egypt, it’s so last year” – but his great strength is that he is not always chasing the gag. He is not afraid not to be funny. There are awkward pauses and weary sighs as he paces the stage, muttering almost to himself. His accent (his English is impeccable) betrays time spent working in America, and it's clear that Betner belongs to a lineage that includes Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks. The company doesn't flatter him. Honest, unsettling, and at times brilliantly observed, this is comedy as catharsis and all the more powerful for it. Despite the relentless darkness of the material, I came out feeling strangely uplifted.

Showing an admirable commitment to topicality, he refused to take the easy line on Pussy Riot’s conviction

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