Watching Tony Law's hugely popular Edinburgh show Maximum Nonsense is less like watching a real stand-up set and more like watching a parody of a stand-up set. Tony Law, mad-haired, high-waisted, the usual topics – "what do I look like"; "being a comedian"; "so I had kids recently" – and meta-commentary on the delivery of such and the difficulties of writing and performing this one-hour show. All the usual notes are hit (including an apparently obligatory musical interlude) but with ironic or absurdist twists.
This is the kind of material that should only work in front of other comedians; Londonist has taken a good look at the audience and decided they probably aren't, but they love it anyway. To be clear, we are talking about the kind of love that compels unassuming men to throw their heads into the small of their backs when they laugh, which they do, a lot. It's the kind of love that forgives that meta-commentary, which for most other comics would cut that four-star Fest star rating by at least half.
Meanwhile, Londonist manages a couple of chuckles at some of the material but finds itself incredibly weary by the end of it. Tony Law has a fantastic delivery, he bounces about the stage like the cartoon character he probably is, but the jokes are all the same: a standard joke set-up hits a non-sequitur of a punchline or a historical reference. It's unique except that it's not.
Worse, it feels unfinished: while Law gets a lot of mileage out of the fact he couldn't think of a good joke here or there or even an ending, it's impossible to forget that this is an Edinburgh show and has been in development since last summer and anyway that's not even a joke, is it, it's just a comment. You've had time to sort this out, Tony Law. You're only fooling yourself.
And another thing (your correspondent would like to point out that he has excised quite a lot of material that was "basically just incoherent yelling"): taking shots at other, more successful comedians is just cheap, Tony Law and pretty much everyone else on the circuit right now, no matter how accurate it is. Sure, we dislike Jack Whitehall too – vehemently – but we're allowed to say that because that's literally our job. It's not funny, and it's cheap and it's bitter and if we gave out star ratings we would have knocked one off on principle.
Yelling aside, though: the show's enjoyable enough. Some of the routines really hit the spot, like the bit about the kids we mentioned at the top there ("they live with giants!"), and Tony Law has a wonderful flow that takes you through that hour, but depending on your sensibilities that could feel like quite a bit longer.
Tony Law: Maximum Nonsense is downstairs at the Soho Theatre until 2 March. Tickets are available for £12.50 - £17.50 at the Soho Theatre's website.