Steen Raskopoulos: The Coolest Kid in Competitive Chess (4 stars)

Steen Raskopoulos: The Coolest Kid in Competitive Chess

credit: Adam Hedgecoe

Spreading the universal appeal of sketchy improv without a single note of malice

A sketch show highly reliant upon audience participation inspires dread in many comedy fans. But once again, Aussie sketch and improv comic Steen Raskopoulos achieves maximum enjoyment with minimum pain inflicted. He rattles through a whole host of sketches using well-chosen accomplices from the crowd, pre-recorded dialogue and the ability to shrug characters on and off at will. Those who have seen Raskopoulos' previous shows, including his 2014 Fringe debut I'm Wearing Two Suits Because I Mean Business, which earned him a Best Newcomer nomination, will recognise familiar characters, though knowledge of them is not necessary for full enjoyment.

Bookended by the titular chess player, his characters veer from the everyday disappointment of a bad haircut to a horse with dreams of being a small business owner, all held together by several through-lines of story, and peppered with short, high-energy palate-cleansers that keep the pace up leaving the next sketch eagerly anticipated.

An extended segment featuring an office employee at a disciplinary meeting is particularly delightful as, by this point, the audience has figured out its role in the night's success and the called-upon individuals delight in helping Raskopoulos get as many laughs as possible. What makes the 'volunteers' so willing to put themselves at risk is the sense that he's not motivated by malice. When one woman falters in complying with his instructions, he ratchets down the façade a few notches to make her feel comfortable, gives her a wee cuddle and draws out what he needs for the sketch without sacrificing momentum or laughs.

By the hour's end, the audience members, emboldened by seeing earlier participants escape without physical or mental harm, are willing to do anything asked of them. Raskopoulos takes an often-disliked form of comedy and, in his very skilled hands, gives it universal appeal.

Underbelly Cowgate, until 27 Aug (not 14), 8pm, £11.50–£12.50 (£10.50–£11.50).

Steen Raskopoulos – The Coolest Kid in Competitive Chess

  • 4 stars

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