Roadman begins with Darren Harriott finishing last on Celebrity Mastermind. It’s one of a number of celebrity television shows he’s been on recently. He’s also been on Richard Osman’s House of Games, Dancing On Ice, Blankety Blank, Love Island: Aftersun and The Wheel, to name only a few.
Harriott names them as well because they’ve been a big part of his life recently. After being nominated for the Best Newcomer award at the Fringe in 2017 and then nominated for Best Show award in 2019, Harriott has successfully broken into the world of British freeview TV comedy.
It’s a place so many of the comedians at this year’s Fringe want to be, and a place that Harriott himself acknowledges with gratitude throughout his show.
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And yet it also makes you wonder about the different kinds of comedy needed for the various mediums. He’s clearly a very funny bloke – his observations, crowd interaction and timing are the best parts of the show – but in Roadman his stand-up relies on fleeting, unrelated anecdotes, and he struggles to build any sort of emotional investment over the course of the hour.
The point of Roadman is Harriott comparing what he thought he wanted to be with realising what he actually is. Currently sporting a dyed-blonde horseshoe moustache and pairing Keith Haring Doc Martens with a Keith Haring shirt, he’s clearly not a ‘roadman’, but during his adolescence and early twenties, these were the people he looked up to.
Moments where he talks about idolising this kind of life, touching on the troubled pasts of his father and grandfather, are some of the show’s best, but too often it reverts to a newfound penchant for wine or salsa dancing. Worst of all, for a man who is clearly articulate and intelligent, is a tendency to play this down and laugh at his own supposed stupidity when on gameshows. Regardless of coming first or last on Mastermind, Harriott is not the dunce he occasionally pretends to be.
It’s not to say Roadman is unenjoyable. Harriott’s natural ability and comfort on stage mean a laugh is never far away. He also does delve into issues of real significance, if only in passing. The show is current and fit for 2023 – JID is the opening track, and Kanye’s social media and NFts also play a significant role in the show. Some of it might go over an older Edinburgh crowd’s head, but that’s not Harriott’s fault.
What he can control is the transitions between the high points. Roadman is missing a tension and an unpredictability that the best shows have – Harriott’s funny enough that he could do it.