Tom Mayhew review – self-effacing standup’s free-floating comedy

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T om Mayhew is performing live on Zoom every night of this year’s fringe, not from a stage but from his sofa. The story he tells makes clear why, after last year’s cancelled festival, he wouldn’t want another fringe to pass him by. In 2019, Mayhew was going places, with a hit show about working-class identity and a Radio 4 series on a similar theme. He was making a living from comedy, then Covid struck. Cue – in one of the show’s funniest cutaways – a phone call to the jobcentre about more viable jobs he might now do instead.

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But here he still is, working in neither security nor warehousing, but making people laugh at their laptops. Or smile, in my case: Mayhew is a self-effacing act, and (Zoom not being the medium to bring a performer out of himself) his show is an unassuming affair. He reflects on high v low art, frets about money while playing Grand Theft Auto and questions the usefulness of Van Gogh as a template for an arts career.

Most of these thoughts are free-floating and don’t cohere into an argument. And while Mayhew’s convictions may be clear on issues such as Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign or the “bullshit jobs” phenomenon, the righteousness isn’t always well developed into comedy. Nor is the show’s meandering air redeemed by a finale in which – in classic Edinburgh-show fashion – Mayhew cranks up the emotional intimacy, screening the eulogy he delivered at his gran’s funeral. It makes an agreeable act more sympathetic still, but isn’t especially illustrative of his reasons for sticking with a career in standup.

And yet, there’s enough here to make you glad he did – including a droll interlude in which his 10-year-old nephew commentates on a Stewart Lee routine and another in which Mayhew is abused by his unfortunate spirit animal, a Kim Noble-soundalike pigeon. It’s a likable if low-wattage hour; finally, an act of faith in Mayhew’s comedy destiny that one hopes will be amply rewarded.

  • Available online until 30 August.

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