There’s a useful reminder in James Barr’s comedy set that a gay man doesn’t simply come out: they come out again, and again, and again, in a way that straight people don’t. Nobody (well, hardly anybody) asks how long a person has been straight for, or when they knew they were straight, or what straight stereotypes they despise. Barr, an openly gay guy, adopts a straight stereotype whenever he breaks from the main narrative to tell a ‘straight joke’, that of the football-loving lager-lout with strongly held but inept viewpoints. It’s a sight to behold, and there’s a mischievous glint in his eyes that (not so) subtly reveals that even when adopting this persona, he has no interest in objectifying women. There’s a reason for that. He. Is. Gay.
The show covers what might feel like very familiar territory for gay people, with situations that feel like they’ve been covered countless times before. There are, for example, the older family members who make it clear, passive-aggressively or otherwise, that they’re not happy with Barr’s sexual orientation, for completely irrational reasons. Barr can be incredibly kind with people he likes and acid-tongued with people he doesn’t – he had fulsome praise for Peter Tatchell and his work, but finds radio presenter Greg James “boring” and the post-Little Mix career of Jesy Nelson “disappointing”. And if that’s uncouth, his description of JK Rowling is quite unprintable.
But even the no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is Barr has his limits. He spent three years as a disc jockey at a radio station that he wouldn’t name outright, even if it hardly takes a rocket scientist to work out what Lowercase FM is a pseudonym for. He doesn’t say so in so many words, but one gets the feeling there were pangs of regret that he tried to conform to certain standards of behaviour expected by management for as long as he did.
The ‘pink ceiling’ concept Barr uses to describe barriers gay people face with regards to career progression is intriguing, even if I am more inclined, having been introduced to it by Katie Arnstein at this year’s Fringe, to go with the ‘sticky door’ analogy, if only because the ceiling image assumes that once one person has broken through, it’s a free for all for everyone who comes behind, which doesn’t correlate with people’s lived experiences. Barr does put forward a compelling reason to burn bridges – despite claiming not to be the brightest spark in the room, there’s something profound about burning bridges (not, of course, indiscriminately) so that others don’t find themselves walking across them and encountering similar problems.
Barr is also quite right to express frustration that while straight comedians can get away with telling gay jokes, “I can’t get away with actually being gay”. He does well to keep proceedings on-topic, and demonstrates considerable skill in tackling some weighty matters in such an animated and engaging way.
Review by Chris Omaweng
People constantly tell James that he is “too gay” – Straight Jokes is his fabulous reply to this pool of haters. An out-of-control hour of jokes from the utterly hilarious, nearly national treasure. James exposes his former radio bosses for their shameful homophobia and navigates the absolutely exhausting admin of pretending to be woke for “fame”. This is an exploration of James’ experience in the comedy industry, as well as a revolt against the elitist media industry, that constantly silences and shames people for their differences. The title ‘Straight Jokes’ is James’ brilliant response to straight comedians telling jokes about queer people.
Social media: Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/imjamesbarr
James Barr: Straight Jokes
Daisy – Underbelly Bristo Square: 3rd – 29th August: 8.45pm