views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Unsolicited Material
Etcetera Theatre
13th August 2016


Ed Surname

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Have you ever seen the film Boyhood? You should have done, it picked up a string of BAFTAs, Golden Globes and film festival awards, so quite a big deal. Partially because it was shot over more than a decade, capturing different ages of the central protagonists without having to resort to stage make-up and prosthetics. If you missed it in the cinema, you're too cheap to pay for the DVD and you're interested in this technique, then you're in luck, because the Camden Fringe have brought you an alternative. Ed Surname's movie Unsolicited Material is the result of this aspiring comedian recording his life 24/7 over 20 years. Yes, twice as long as Boyhood and it took so so damn long that some of the early footage is actually on VHS. Remember those things? Well Surname certainly does because he has spent such a long time painstakingly digitising them for this piece. Evidently this whole project has been a labour of love.

Unsolicited Material isn't the smash hit comedy and biting satire on showbiz that Surname probably hoped for, however scenes with bodily fluids aside, it is a beautiful and touching love letter to his whole family. Clearly they are all thoroughly lovely people who have indulged and supported him his whole life. This film is the tale of a boy who never wanted to grow up being forced to grow up, and how he's reacted to that inevitability. Surname's nan steals the show with her infectious giggles and willingness to play along with her slightly insane grandson. Despite their differing ages, it's obvious she's the one with all her marbles and he's, well, he's... uniquely him. Surname's dad too raises many a chuckle with his lack of understanding over Surname's videotape dream, bluntness and yet always unwavering love. For a comedian with such a self-confessed Marmite appeal, it's amazing how few people in this movie don't dislike him. His family certainly would do anything for him.

Surname's style of humour curiously swings back and forth between Noughties shows Trigger Happy TV and Jackass. Everyone loves a man who can make them laugh, and there's a lot of comedy to be found in the unknown. However, I do fear stapling your head for a not particularly funny joke is taking things a bit too far in the pursuit of people-pleasing. Several of the stunts push the boundaries of comedy and common sense, although I'm still not quite sure how to feel about his response to an online troll telling him to jump off a bridge. Entertaining or idiotic? And that I suppose is part of the charm of this film - constantly trying to get inside the head of the man behind all the gags and understand what makes him tick. There's a raw honesty that Surname leaves unedited out, allowing us to connect and form an opinion.

In some ways, it's hard to comment on Surname's chances of success in making it big from his appearance in this movie because given the length of time over which the material has been captured, he's not the same man he was at the start. There are several scenes where he's trying too hard to make a joke land, satire or not, but these generally involve a younger, more immature Surname. The ending is really smart, heart-warming and carefully straddles the line between the comic and the bleak, hinting at a more rounded, more mature comedian emerging at the end of this two-decade epic. I'd take a punt on a stand-up night with Surname, provided he's been to the toilet beforehand and there are no sharp items in the room.

Unsolicited Material is a very unique insight into the life of an aspiring comedian. Whilst it's not a laugh-a-minute affair and there are some some deliberate gross-out moments that won't be to everyone's taste, it's a compelling and warm piece of film that makes you want to keep watching until the very end.

Unsolicited Material opened on 12th August and runs until 14th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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