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Straight Jokes review: ‘James Barr brings comedy and sexuality politics to Edinburgh Festival Fringe’

"Ultimately the lesson of Straight Jokes is one of being yourself in an age where people will still try and impose their ideals on you".

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Supplied

A good comedy show will have you laughing (hopefully at least a little) but at its core have a more meaningful message to take away. Straight Jokes, the latest Edinburgh Fringe show from presenter and comedian James Barr, accomplishes this goal.

In just under an hour James tickles your funny bone with quips about Jesy Nelson’s “disappointing” solo career (his words, not mine!) and shares his slightly odd conspiracy theory that Sir Tom Moore might not actually be dead and due to appear on the next series of The Masked Singer.

But he also manages to touch on broader issues such as societal homophobia and forced heteronormativity that will ring true for many members of the LGBTQ community and, hopefully, prove insightful for those outside the community too.

In a recent column for Attitude, James explained how he’d once been told by a radio producer that he was “too camp”Straight Jokes elaborates on this and explores how gay men and queer people in general often, sadly, have to still appeal to straight markets and demographics in order to be successful.

Be you a gay florist, butcher or, as in James’s case, radio presenter, there is an expectation that you must fit an idea of what is acceptable. Only then will you be successful like the “boring” Greg James of Radio 1. Again, James’s words, not mine.

James also highlights how he will always be identified as and seen as the ‘gay comedian’. Not just ‘comedian’, but a gay one and how that is a distinction that is imposed on him by society at large. 

“Straight comedians can get away with telling loads of gay jokes but I can’t get away with actually being gay,” James poignantly laments at one point in his hour set. And it’s true. There is a huge discrepancy between what a straight cis-man can say and do as opposed to quite literally anyone else.

We see a similar situation in the world of film and TV with queer actors still being passed over for roles that go to straight men who then go on to acclaim and success for their “bravery”. However, gay men don’t get the same consideration for straight roles!

Thankfully we’re gradually beginning to see a changing of the tide but it’s still very much a problem. 

Elsewhere James also highlights the current fight for trans equality and trans rights, as well as making reference to a disturbing backlash against the LGBTQ community with legislation such as Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay, Don’t Say Trans’ bill. 

Ultimately, the lesson of Straight Jokes is one of being yourself in an age where people will still try and impose their ideals on you as a way of making you fit a mould. 

Fans of James need not worry. James navigates these topics all the while mixing in his characteristic brand of sarcasm, zingy humour, and upbeat poppy wit.

He retains a relatable rapport with his audience picking out a straight man at whom he directs the majority of his actual “straight jokes”, which are thankfully few and far between and almost always accompanied by a “laddy” phrase which I won’t try and write out here. 

Performing in such an intimate space can’t be easy but James manages well, keeps proceedings running smooth, and makes some important points in the process.

Rating: 3/5

Straight Jokes is running at the Underbelly at Bristol Square until 29 August. Get tickets here.

The Attitude September/October issue is out now.