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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Bruce Dessau

Whitmer Thomas at Soho Theatre review: humour served with oddball sprinkles

American comedian Whitmer Thomas is something else. In the best possible way. He is a stand-up but also a musician and various other things too. Following the success of his first HBO Special The Golden One, his latest show Big Baby is Soho-based this week. If you like your humour with lashings of oddball sprinkles he is thoroughly recommended.

Thomas, from Alabama, is in his mid-thirties and comes across as part-stoner, part-reference-dropping hipster. Along the way, he’s playful and mischievous, disturbing and confessional, accompanying himself on keyboard and guitar as he tells stories about his life, lobbing in a stunning Jack Nicholson impression here and a slightly less definitive Michael Caine take-off there.

Gradually a picture emerges to explain why he might be so strange. Between songs he talks at length about his unconventional parents. His late mother was a singer and alcoholic who never quite made it big, but clearly had a huge influence on Thomas’ psyche.

As for his father, he recalls how he took him to see Toy Story, and it was a while before his dad realised it was an animation. Whitmer describes himself as similarly slow-witted – “dumber than a frog in a bag” – someone who thought the Statue of Liberty was a man until he was nearly twenty.

He plays up the idea that he is a beta male loser, saying that his first girlfriend cheated on him every week. But despite his protestations there is clearly a sharp brain under Whitmer’s mop of scruffy-spiky blond hair. He is just someone who, having grown up watching prank shows such as Jackass, likes to goof around and be foolish.

As with fellow American Bo Burnham, his infectious songs are strong in their own right but are also very funny, with unpredictable lyrics that pinball off at all sorts of surreal tangents. Homemade onscreen videos, mashing together original footage with clips from films including One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid add to the anarchic spirit.

It is certainly not at every gig that you hear a ballad about a romantic encounter with a sand crab. Throw in some absurdist aperçus about shrimp-eating and Batman’s The Dark Knight and there is a lot going on, also including deftly edited special effects that have echoes of madcap Australian Sam Campbell, and British audiovisual gagster Mat Ewins.

The best is saved for last. It would spoil the surprise to elaborate, but it involves the use of an app which dramatically transforms Thomas on the screens behind him. The result is major league laughs in the room. An outstanding finale to an appealingly unusual show, from an appealingly unusual performer.

Soho Theatre, until Saturday;

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