Sincerity in any artform is a nebulous business – perhaps especially so in standup, which often hinges on crafting a persona and reframing reality to garner the greatest laughs. Nevertheless, Sanderson Jones’s new show—his return to the Fringe after six years—is by all appearances a sincere endeavour, and that allows him to get away with a few stunts that would grate more in the hands of another performer.
Which isn’t to say these antics—or the show as a whole—are entirely successful. During his absence from the festival, Jones became best known as the co-founder of the Sunday Assembly, a gathering for the non-religious who seek the communality faith often provides. Fortunately, this is not an extended advert for the assemblies—Jones’s funniest observations have more to do with the media reaction they elicited—but the thinking behind them does inform what follows. The result is mixed – not least because, as standup, it is both thin on material and uncomfortably padded.
Jones wrings some decent comedic mileage out of the fact that, in promoting his show as a “secular spiritual experience”, he has inadvertently hit upon a concept almost perfectly phrased to repel punters, regardless of their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the remaining jokes cannot sustain a half-baked hour, in which Jones relies on his exuberance to cajole the audience into dance routines, full-length karaoke recitals without apparent cause or punchline, and relaxation exercises which could charitably be described as good-humoured, but not humorous.