About a quarter of the way into his On the Rocks festival set, comedian Tom Caruth described a time when he found a toe ring inside a kebab he had ordered. Instead of discarding the toe ring, the kebab, and the contents of his stomach, he continued on with his meal. This is a fairly apt metaphor for Caruth’s set as a whole.
In his first solo show, Caruth riffed off many other unpleasant—but ultimately endurable—experiences in his life. From substance abuse to mental illness to cunnilingus, no topic was too taboo to escape comment. Caruth spoke frankly about his own struggles with alcohol, depression, and relationships—a psychological trifecta for university students. His intention, he said, was to destigmatise these topics through humour: not a unique goal in the realm of stand up comedy, but a noble one nonetheless. Change rarely occurs as the result of a single voice. His success on this front was varied.
Throughout the show there was always the feeling that the performance could be a little more. The jokes could be a little funnier, the subject matter a bit more uncomfortable. Caruth’s goal to shock society into a change of mentality only works if the subject matter is truly shocking. University students are a demographic that are very difficult to startle and, therefore, more work goes into flustering their indelicate sensibilities.
However, none of this takes into consideration how extremely gutsy it is to walk into a pub and unload your problems, insecurities, and risky jokes onto that pub’s patrons. Caruth’s impressive confidence and bravado onstage helped him navigate tough topics. His warmth and humor made Aikman’s already-intimate cellar bar feel even closer.
Caruth’s talent for entertaining was best exhibited in a moment of unplanned improvisation. Expecting to close out his show with a guitar and a Bo Burnham-style musical number, Caruth was suddenly forced to change his plans when he — as well as the audience — realized that his guitar was woefully out of tune. Instead of panicking, or even just continuing on with the pitchy instrument, Caruth kept the audience entertained as he handed the guitar over to one of his friends for tuning. Upon getting the instrument back, he realized it was still out of tune and proceeded to sing acapella with the help of the audience. The result wasn’t a chaotic detractor from the rest of the performance and it somehow fit better into the set than some of its other components.
Caruth’s show had the candid charm of an early Ed Sheeran song — and not just because of the English accent and acoustic guitar. Despite focusing on life’s unexpected, kebab-crusted toe rings, Caruth’s performance was youthful and bright. Most importantly, it felt real. Caruth bluntly and cleverly walked the line between optimism and melancholy, confidence and self-deprecation. His show was a testament to promise and personal growth — exactly the kind of message you need to hear on a Sunday night during essay season.