No one goes into a Brendon Burns gig expecting a safe, light hearted chuckle so having him pair up with “charming ball of rage” Craig Quartermaine on the premise of discussing race is certainly going to set off a few triggers. Before this show, I don’t think I’d ever heard what white guilt sounds like – it sounds like agitated silence, it turns out. An intake of breath, minor rustlings, but mostly overwhelming, oppressive silence. Well, when I say silence I mean Burns cackling away on stage as we all wriggle and collectively try to fold ourselves in half as a coping mechanism while our whiteness is put under siege.
Each time I see Burns he takes a step closer to a becoming Eddie from Bottom, almost as if he’s been possessed by the ghost of the character. He’s wild and abrasive (some would say obnoxious) but that’s all part of the appeal here, where’s he’s juxtaposed with Quartermaine’s calm anger. They have completely opposite personalities and styles – Quartermaine often just stands quietly shaking his head while Burns rants and raves like a lunatic.
They discuss how they met, telling different sides of the same story. When introduced to Craig’s white wife, Burns squirms in mock-embarrassment. My favourite story was of Quartermaine’s bearing witness to a display of top level display white privilege when Burns was pulled over for a random breath test by cops. Burns, we’re told, proceeded to do and say things to the police that if Quartermaine had said it the same situation, things would have ended quite differently.
Part of my own coping mechanism was to look at how other people reacted throughout. An elderly white woman in the second row looked a mix of stern and stunned, while the black woman in front of me threw her head back laughing, rocking from side to side. The twenty-something white woman next to me would often look at her nails and cross her legs awkwardly like some of the material was getting under her skin. It’s was a great show to people watch!
There are times when it skated a little too close to professionalism. Occasionally, a pause or glance betrayed that fact that some of the controversy was obviously rehearsed, which dampened the impact a little. But no one could deny both comedians’ passion for the subject they chose to take on. The show went deep, but by the end managed to prove that some of us still have a shred of decency left.
The question you need to ask yourself is do you like being challenged and feeling uncomfortable? If you do then the answer is yes!
Brendon Burns and Craig Quartermaine in Race Off runs until 28th August at Gilded Balloon Teviot, 18:45