Jermaine Fowler review – sketchy show elevated by an easy intimacy | Comedy


Tonight, says Jermaine Fowler, “I’m just prepping stuff for my next standup film.” It’s an underwhelming opening from the Coming 2 America star – whose UK debut is not being sold as a work-in-progress. Sure enough, Fowler duly lingers close to his little red notebook for much of the hour, reminding himself whether the next bit is about his jailbird twin, his rescue hamsters, or the time he spent half an hour on Whoopi Goldberg’s space-age toilet.

That doesn’t prevent the 33-year-old delivering a very genial set: he’s a warm and engaging presence, and develops an open, easy rapport with his mouthy late-night crowd. But this is a standup appearance still developing into a coherent show. Broadly, it traces Fowler’s family background, growing up poor, his teenage parents variously into Christianity, dating strippers and homemade porn. There’s the raw material here for a rewarding narrative about Fowler’s journey out of that world, and its counterpoints in the lives of those he left behind – or, in the case of a long-lost sister, never knew. But for now, it’s coming at us in fragments rather than a structured whole.

Taken in that spirit, there’s plenty to enjoy, most of it autobiographical anecdotes from Fowler’s upbringing in Washington DC, then Maryland. Sometimes, it’s noticeable more for authenticity than craft: these often sound like more or less amusing stories lifted wholesale from Fowler’s life and minimally processed into comedy. But Fowler elevates them with his breezy, emotionally intimate manner: the show feels like a real conversation. And the best of his material vividly conjures the peculiarities of his family life: his devout dad anointing his forehead with olive oil; tensions between “the gay Crips and the Christian Bloods” across the aisle at his mom’s funeral.

Latterly, the story of his “crazy family” broadens to recount Fowler’s search – as touching as it is funny – for a sister, long ago given up for adoption. The routine about schmoozing with Goldberg feels like an afterthought; one doubts it’ll make the final cut of his film. But on this evidence, and with a little more prep, it should still be worth watching.

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