Fringe stand-up

Chloe Radcliffe: Cheat



Cheating on a partner is something I’ve never tried to empathise with, but there’s a first for everything. Right?

Cheating is the premise of Chloe Radcliffe’s show, as the American comedian has done the dirty on nearly everyone she’s been with. She’s open about this, wanting to let the taboo out of its cage and create a supportive space for cheaters. It’s a hard show to digest and more remorse from Radcliffe wouldn’t have gone amiss. She often comes across as smug, protesting that she’s only recently “got hot”, as she puts it, so her actions are justified. But there’s no doubt hers is an incredibly destructive habit to have. Radcliffe scarcely acknowledges this or takes ownership, and when she does it’s more self-pity standup than the self-deprecatory sort.

I think it must just be that American way of coping.

She’s a master of this comedy of deflection, though. Her stage presence is slick, her timing is beyond excellent, and she has well-seasoned material in abundance. She’s a great stand up. There are really tender moments of vulnerability in her show, they’re just short lived. This creates an imbalance between her moral shrewdness and the hurt she laughs about. She does write a great through-line, from childhood dysfunction to adult. It’s well-crafted and well executed. Radcliffe’s a talented writer, thriving when a crowd devours her exploits – her jokes always land well, and she looks at home at a sell-out set.

There’s a point where she gives us insight into her seven-year-old mind, in a picture book she made describing her relationship with a “cool” but ultimately non-committal father. Little Chloe wrote “My dad is hard”. Given the subject of the show, laughter ensues. But the dark underside of this joke is picked up again at the end. Radcliffe recognises that what she meant by “hard” was fear of surrendering control in a relationship: she’s “hard” now too. This is what causes her to cheat. If she cheats, she keeps control of the bargain and is the one with the power to walk away at any point.

This therapized conclusion is fair enough, and obviously makes life tough for Radcliffe. She does want to change, for the betterment of others but mostly for herself. It just stunned me that this conclusion has taken over 10 years to get to, and I couldn’t help but see the trail of devastation behind her. We’ve all been hurt, but we can’t believe this gives us justification to hurt others. That would lead to a purge of humanity, surely. She isn’t an exception, and is asking a lot from her audience to see her as such.

She sets herself up and stunts her set’s potential when she asks her audience to clap if they’ve been cheated on at the start of the show. This crude and insensitive opener isn’t the shock standup she thinks; her jokes and material are enough to land her as a top comedian. She doesn’t meet her audience with empathy, so how can she expect the same from us? I can’t deny that I laughed, though: great comedian, disappointing concept.

Until August 27

Grace Sansom is working with The Herald for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's prestigious Emerging Critics Scheme