‘There are pockets of joy,” says Sam Simmons, peering out over his audience, but he also claims to see mainly confused faces. This is what the aggressively silly Aussie comic does: berates us for our under-appreciation, feigns his own failure. It’s a tactic, of course, to emphasise his weirdness, to ratchet up the absurdity and alienation of an already absurd act. And it hasn’t done Simmons any harm: he won the Edinburgh Comedy award two summers ago, and is, if tonight’s mantra is to be believed, “doing really well overseas”. (He’s now based in LA.)
It’s a risky tactic, though – in that, if you tell an audience often enough that they are not enjoying themselves, they might start to believe it. That was partly my experience at this performance of his new show A-K, when Simmons’s compulsive commentary on how his jokes were being received overshadowed the jokes themselves. That left the show, which arrives at the Edinburgh festival next week, a bit disjointed. It doesn’t help that this is Simmons’s most loosely conceived offering: there are fewer props, gimmicks and convoluted set-pieces, and it more closely resembles standup than the carnivals of oddity he has served up in the past.
And yet, amid the barking peevishness, there are some sublimely odd and amusing moments. Insofar as the show has a theme, it’s his concern to be a good role model after the recent birth of his daughter. (This, delivered from under a Charlie’s Angels wig, belly hanging over the waistband of a severely underfitting cheerleader outfit.) How that relates to his “Bald Lives Matter” campaign (figurehead: Bruce Willis) or his interest in the moustache-to-paedophile ratio is up to you to decide.
That last joke is rounded off with a pre-recorded sting: the words “moustache-to-paedophile ratio” trilled operatically. The trick, repeated throughout the hour, is satisfyingly daft in itself while revealing the show to be a tighter construction than Simmons otherwise lets on.
Perhaps it adds up to less than previous Simmons offerings, and there are weaker moments, as when he canvasses his audience’s “porn names”. On the plus side, his “racial dysmorphia” song about having a 12-year-old Korean boy trapped inside his body is hard to resist, and his attempts to prove what a bigshot he is by citing Hollywood dinners with “Stephen Dorff and Renée Zellweger’s sister” are enjoyably bathetic. If this is Simmons being a role model, his daughter is in for a lively ride.
• At Soho theatre, London, until 5 August. Box office: 020-7478 0100. Then at Assembly George Square, Edinburgh, 11-27 August. Box office: 0131 226 0000.