In Cringe (playing at the 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival), solo performer Sam Roulston has cobbled together 25 minutes of sketches which touch on a variety of subjects. The pandemic is a major throughline, as is Roulston’s queerness.
And there is some great work in here. His take on pandemic birthday greetings is fresh and relatable, he does interesting character work as a daffy agent and a querulous barista, and a musical tribute to the sartorial tastes of artsy queers shows what he can do when he lets his instincts run with an idea.
My pick for his strongest moment would be a zingy little striptease, where his craft as a comedian really comes to the fore. The big challenge with striptease is that each new reveal has to be an escalation: the energy has to build and build and then hit a climax at exactly the right moment. In this segment, Roulston’s firing on all cylinders as a performer and as a creator. He absolutely earns his payoff.
But as someone who’s seen a lot of Fringe comedy shows by a lot of gay men, two of the longer sketches (one about straight women in gay bars, the other about the secret urges of country singers) felt very familiar. This is by no means an accusation of plagiarism, I’m only suggesting that this ground is pretty well-trodden. If you’re going to break through on these topics, you need a supremely original take, and I wasn’t seeing it here.
I still think you should see this show, especially if you’re not as picky as I am. Roulston has a a charming, breezy tone which often lets him sneak surprises into his material: the best punchlines are usually the ones you weren’t expecting, and he knows this better than most.
- Cringe is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
- Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go, with the suggested price of $13 per show.
- Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
- Accessibility notes:
- On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
- Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
- Content Warning: the Fringe Festival does not recommend this show for viewers below the age of 14, and considers that it contains sexual content, strobe lights, revealing clothing, and mature language.
Photo of Sam Roulston provided by the company.