Shirley Gnome: Taking It Up the Notch
Review by Rhys Tarling
What makes Canadian cabaret artist Shirley Gnome appealing is pretty straightforward. She’s a country/pop musician who seamlessly melds the sound of Hot Adult mid 90s radio-friendly melancholy (think Jewel) and the grimiest and sleaziest sexual profanities that you can imagine. It’s a simple kind of gag – set the audience up for something and then knock them sideways with something else. But its bawdy humour and genuinely pleasant sounding music worked its charm on most of us.
Emphasis on the bawdy, though. The subtitle of her show “Taking It Up the Notch” is as subtle as the bawdiness gets. The rest is a crude if melodious bellow. She’s catchy and hilarious and fearless. And, perhaps best of all, she seems to gleefully ride the waves of discomfort she produces with every way-too-personal anecdote and song. At one point in the show, about 5 minutes in, some guy looked at his friend and his face was giddily contorted in a Man, Can You Believe We’re Hearing This kind of way.
But there’s something generous about her comedy, about her willingness to have herself as the butt of the joke for most of it, which makes even the more ruthlessly uncomfortable parts of the show come across as sweet and endearing. Actually, Taking It Up the Notch is surprisingly free of cruelty. No easy feat considering its comedy tends towards the darker side. As if to underscore this peculiar talent for wielding black comedy that doesn’t take shots at anybody, she ends the show on a thank you song of which its most sincere earnest gratitude cannot be denied – though nor can its bleak message.
The structure of the show is the platonic ideal of a great cabaret show – the music, stand-up, theatre, and ruminations on the current state of the world, sex, and death, coalesce flawlessly and as a result it feels even shorter than its 60 minutes (but you feel you could stand to watch another 60). Whether her polarising humour produces stitches or a stony expression, it can’t be denied those tunes are catchy and that Shirley Gnome knows exactly what she’s doing every step of the way.
Shirley Gnome: Taking It Up the Notch runs until 8 Feb at Fringe World’s Noodle Palace. For tickets and more information, visit the Fringe website here.