CLASSIC EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW
"His interaction with the audience was a touch of genius, and early on he had us up on our feet trying to figure out who was the least cool person in the room."
HEY, TOM BELL
Originally Published August 15th 2009
Aug 12, 2023
Image by Esther Shephard
Stand-up can’t be easy; as an audience member, you can see how hard it is to perform a free fringe show to a jam-packed audience. There have to be a million and one things that go through your mind when you’re doing your show: hecklers, jokes that fall flat, more hecklers, and nerves. Seeing some comics hack it up, fall on their faces, or simply not grab the audience tightly is not hard to find at the fringe.
But there are a few exceptions to this, and Tom Bell is one of them. I've never seen a comic manage to do an hour-long show with such ease and confidence as Bell did. From start to finish, he had gripped his audience and could have done and said anything he wanted, and his audience would have been only too happy to go alone with him. He worked hard on a set that was well written, detailed, believable, and presented without any fluff or slips. As far as stand-ups go, Bell gave it his all, and the audience's reward was getting to watch a new comic really showcase why they're doing what they're doing.
Even though this is part of the PBH Free Fringe programme, it has been selling out, and this show was no different; he had latecomers, and there was only standing room for them in Rowan Caves 1. Before the show started, he asked everyone to write 'happy thoughts' on some paper, and as the show was going along, if it got a little sad, he could use the 'Happiness Box' to bring the show back on track. His interaction with the audience was a touch of genius, and early on he had us up on our feet trying to figure out who was the least cool person in the room.
"Few young comedians can master what Bell has been able to do with this show."
Hey, Tom Bell! was centred around the loss of his notebook, and he fills the edges of his show with some ‘bad’ jokes from the book and how he was going to cope with the loss and deal with the fact he had the Fringe in less than three weeks. Bell’s confidence seemed to come from nowhere; on stage, he simply owns it but seems to refuse to allow himself to become cocky or arrogant. Throughout the show, he has a genuine respect for the audience; even when launching jibes at them, it's done in a way that only endeared him to the audience.
With the 'Happiness Box', it meant that throughout the show he kept the audience involved, and it also gave him more excuses to poke fun at the audience because they'd provided him with the material—a cleaver strategy, I think. As the show went on, he got even more manic, and the story of his frustration with his notebook going missing meant that you had a solid story. When he went off in a different direction, you found yourself truly picturing the images that he was creating.
There are hundreds of comedy shows at The Fringe 2009, hundreds of them, but Hey, Tom Bell is in a class of its own. Few young comedians can master what Bell has been able to do with this show. He created a comedy event of sorts, which meant the audience was fully part of what he was doing, and at the heart of it all was respect for his audience. And though I have seen some great stand-up, this show surpasses any I’ve seen, and much like Peggy Weight Champion of the World, you should have to pay for this show.