Head Set review – a backstage tour of standup comedy

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian</span>
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian

Victoria Melody likes to throw herself into things. For previous shows, the performance artist has immersed herself in the worlds of pigeon fanciers, beauty pageants and funeral directors – to name just a few. Her headfirst enthusiasm is what drives these performances, as much as the fascinating communities she investigates. The same is true of new show Head Set, in which Melody explores a passion of her own: standup comedy.

Disenchanted with theatre, Melody has turned to plan B: become a comedian. After all, she tells us, people have always found her funny. Punctuated by the nonplussed comments of her standup teacher (“Where’s the punchline?”), Melody takes the audience on an entertaining tour of the open-mic comedy circuit, where her quirky brand of humour dies on stage night after night. Struggling to communicate with audiences, her quest for advice leads to a diagnosis of her own neurodivergence. Curious about the possible links between comedy and ADHD, Melody then decides to turn herself into an experiment – one that her standup audiences find unexpectedly hilarious.

Her offbeat routines and tales of open-mic failure prompt frequent, hearty laughs

The Edinburgh fringe is the perfect place for a comedy act nested within a theatre show. Melody knowingly plays with the two forms, revealing the differences between what we find funny in each. She is, she confesses, an inept comedian by traditional standards, but in this theatrical setting her offbeat routines and tales of open-mic failure prompt frequent, hearty laughs. The structure of the show is also a clever expression of Melody’s joyfully chaotic brain, skittering between images, ideas and the sort of unwieldy props that her comedy instructor discourages.

While she might not be a born standup, Melody is a naturally endearing performer and it’s impossible not to be charmed by her storytelling. There are some fascinating ideas being prodded at here – about the mechanics of comedy, about the connections between performing and neurodivergence, about the possibility of changing direction in one’s life. However, each of these strands feels underexplored and the slightly hurried end of the show leaves me wanting more. The punchline eventually lands, but there’s more to be excavated from the setup.