There can be sacrifices when live comedy transfers to TV – and I expected them with Natalie Palamides’ hot-button anarcho-clown show Nate. But sometimes – it turns out – comedy can be more electrifying on screen. Yes, Nate was extraordinary first time around, when its bull-in-a-china-shop inquiry into gender and consent became the talk of Edinburgh 2018. But at a fringe festival, its ingredients (nudity and cross-dressing; unstable audience interaction; giant rubber cocks) are par for the course. On Netflix, they feel like a major provocation.
Comparisons are already being made with Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, another fringe graduate that upended mainstream standup. Nate is so untoward, it comes with a pre-show warning from producer Amy Poehler. It’s not required: Palamides can soften you up and get you going without help. S/he begins with a swaggering two-minute burlesque on machismo, all shades, chest hair and heavy metal, playing the daredevil and chugging beers. It is gloriously ridiculous – but things soon get complicated. Nate asks for permission to grope people in the audience. He instructs us in the need to secure consent – while violently chopping wood, which sends a mixed signal.
But mixed signals are the point in a show that goes on to dramatise a date, and consensual (or otherwise?) sex, between Nate and his art teacher, played by a shop window dummy. The journey there is often stoopid (the stretchy cock; the puerile punning names of Nate’s classmates), and outrageously funny – see Nate naked wrestling with a love-rival audience member. But it’s stealthy too, and subtle, winning sympathy for our macho host without apologising for him, and orchestrating seemingly crude audience encounters with real care – consent being an issue in comedy, too.
The production does a great job of capturing the unease, and the thrill, of being in the room with Palamides. There are lots of audience shots, and multiple cameras tracking Nate on stage and off. The Netflix context sharpens the focus on what a striking and distinctive thing Palamides and director Phil Burgers have brought into the world: a raucous drag king floorshow that, without stinting on the funny, opens up space to consider the grey areas around sexual consent.