Karen Dunbar

To the curious outsider Dunbar’s brand of jocular comedy is hugely alienating

archive review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 07 Aug 2007

Karen Dunbar is Scottish. She is Scottish in the same way that Billy Connolly, Rabbie Burns or Haggis is Scottish. Her humour is Scottish. Her followers, who calmly nod and titter "ach aye" between handclaps, are Scottish.

To the curious outsider – the Californian tourist, for example, or the reasonable man acquainted with neither Rab C Nesbit nor Chewin’ The Fat – Dunbar’s brand of jocular comedy is hugely alienating. In a stand-up set where a furtive yet plain mention of the English flood situation can stimulate the crowd to a contained howl of mutually acknowledged schadenfreude, any notion of universal comic appeal goes flying, well and truly, oot tha windae. At the risk of underestimating the social awareness of the typical non-Scot, this is humour for people whose cultural heritage is the same as Dunbar’s - families raised on Oor Wullie, people for whom a Shirley Bassey show tune sung in the tongue of the Ayrshire bard is a riot, as opposed to unintelligible.

Yet one cannot dismiss Dunbar as a poor entertainer. She narrates a "shite" she took whilst abroad with the all deft, foul-mouthed glee of a young Eddie Murphy. She dissects a Des’ree pop song in a very ordinary yet charming musical number. She sings and she dances and the audience, wrapt, are enchanted by the energy of a comedienne who frankly and funnily speaks for them.