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Vladimir Mctavish

Feb 2008 reviewed by Alan Sharp

Taking on a name like Vladimir McTavish is a way of providing shorthand for a number of things. Firstly, it’s unlikely that anyone in the audience is going to be unaware of your nationality. Secondly, of course, it is immediately clear that the name is fake, and that therefore what you are going to see is essentially a character created by the performer rather than a straightforward act. Although one suspects that McTavish is closer in character to the real Paul Sneddon than his other act, drunken football pundit Bob Doolally, you still can’t help wondering how much is Sneddon and how much is an act.

The McTavish character is something of a “street philosopher,” a Glaswegian schemie railing at society. His delivery is aggressive and often coarse, but Sneddon is a seasoned performer and he knows exactly how far he can push and when to rein himself in so as not to alienate his audience.

Whilst creating a character on stage can often free a comic to explore areas that he might otherwise be reticent about, it can also be restrictive. In the case of McTavish, the name limits the range of topics that can be covered. There is an audience expectation that the humour is going to be very much based in the Scots experience, and that is exactly what he delivers.

The problem with this, of course, is that Scots comedians have been covering these topics since time immemorial, and there really are very few new avenues to explore. And so we get routines about how much the Scots enjoy seeing the English lose at sports, about the national propensity for drinking, about the stuffy attitudes of the middle-class Presbyterians, and the new favourite of Scots comics everywhere, about the smoking ban. And while McTavish does have some good observations and some very funny lines, none of this is terribly fresh or original.

So the result is that watching McTavish perform is a bit like going to the latest Bond movie. You know you’re going to enjoy it, but you’ve also got a pretty fair idea what’s going to happen even before it begins. And I come away wondering what might happen if Sneddon were one day to drop the characters, step out of his comfort zone and really let fly.