A Retrospective 1995-2015 review

Reviews are strange things. They’re one of the few times I can get an honest idea of what an audience member really thinks about my work. I don’t really care if they like it or dislike it, I would’ve quit stand-up a good while ago if I valued other people’s opinions more than my own. I think I’m pretty good, and if reviewers disagree I can usually see where they’re coming from, or, if I’m in a really bad mood, I can conclude that they are dumb and didn’t understand what I was doing.

Reviews are valuable to me though, as they can be used to convince family, friends-from-school-I-don’t-see-much-anymore, and strangers who don’t trust me, that I am actually pretty good at what I do. I’ve had some real bad luck with reviews in the last while. Back in 2011, my font-and-grammar-based show Manual of Style, got a bunch of good four star reviews, and one absurd five star review. I mean, I can see where that reviewer was coming from, but that show wasn’t as good as a show can possibly be. The Futura section was a little half-baked.

Reviews have become harder to get in Edinburgh in the last few years. In 2014, I only got one review for my Manhood show, a two star affair from UK comedy site Chortle. They disliked the show so much [it wasn’t that bad, a solid three star effort I reckon] that they also took down the four star review they’d given me for Manual of Style in 2011. The three star review from 2010 is still up, I can only assume that I must’ve retroactively made MoS shitter somehow. Possibly they’re mad that I kept putting their review on posters with the grammatical error warning “[sic]”. I mean, I couldn’t not have, given the show’s content. I would’ve torpedoed ticket sales.

Conor O'Toole Manhood

In the Dublin Fringe this year I had the Irish Times in on the second day of the run. I was really excited, because the show was good, and all the publications my Edinburgh reviews came from mean nothing over here. Plus, with a thousand less comedy shows in this fringe, my show would have less unbelievable shows to compete with, and might seem comparatively better.

The second night of the run was a real nice one, as I knew the show well enough that I could perform it all-slick-like, but I hadn’t done it so much that I was bored of it. I’m pretty sure I saw the reviewer, there was a girl sitting on her own in the second row. She looked like she was really enjoying it. Deadly.

The next afternoon I eagerly awaited the review at one o’clock, when I thought it might emerge. No luck. I checked some other reviews. Looked like they mainly came out at three. Cool. Three o’clock came and went. Damn. Maybe tomorrow. I went and did the show. Small crowd. I promised the empty chairs they’d have people in them the next day.

One o’clock. Nope. Three o’clock. Still nothing. I read the other reviews that were out. A pop-up appeared on the Irish Times’ site telling me I’d read all my free articles that week, and I’d have to subscribe to see more.

On the sixth night, I had the idea that maybe the review had only come out in the print edition and I had missed it. I bought a subscription so I could read the PDFs of the paper online. Bah! Apparently I needed to be subscribed for a month before I was allowed to read back issues.

The run ended with a whimper on Sunday night with about ten people in the crowd. The review never came out. I waited a month and checked the print issues. No dice. Or review. I considered contacting the reviewer to see if she’d actually written the review, or if I was pining after 300 words that never existed in the first place. I’d like to have seen what it would’ve said, but I couldn’t think of a way of phrasing an email that didn’t sound angry or crazy or severely passive-aggressive. I wasn’t any of those things, I was just disappointed and curious. Oh well. I guess we’ll never know …

In the interest of having some record of what the show was, I’ve decided I’ll write a review of it now, and you can decide whether or not it’s worth traveling back in time to see.

Conor O’Toole: A Retrospective 1995-2015 review

Conor O'Toole Spring on a Stick

In a white gallery in Temple Bar, Conor O’Toole has put on an exhibit of work. Dumb classical musical plays as we peruse his old notebooks, posters, and mediocre paintings before the show. The paintings might appear to be outsider art to some, but in reality it is likely just the work of someone who isn’t trying very hard.


The show is nominally about O’Toole’s ‘art’, stand-up comedy included, but in reality it focuses mainly on the horrors of World War One and witty things O’Toole has said to his friends, punctuated by snide remarks about animals.


There was a bit he clearly ripped off from the bit in Jurassic Park where John Hammond talks to himself on screen, and a thing with whistles that was pretty fun. I liked that bit lots. Also, we got tiny booklets on the way in. They were all different colours. I bet they were a pain to make. I bet O’Toole has loads of them left in his house. Each representing an audience member who never appeared.

Three-and-a-half stars