Tom Rosenthal: Manhood – Edinburgh Fringe

Tom Rosenthal has the most wondrous comic stage presence I have ever seen live in my life. Walking in with butterflies in my stomach (I’ve been watching Friday Night Dinner, which he’s in), I saw a video projected of three Toms dressed in colourful clothing dancing unusual and gripping routines, waving at me and the audience.

The suspense was heightened even more. We were about to see the person on the screen in real life. And we were not disappointed. Rosenthal prances around the stage almost elf-like, giggling with wide, eager eyes. His grin is huge, tense and exciting. He wipes the sweat off his brow in the hot room. It is easy to see why he is a known personality, because boy does he have one. He tells us that the rest of the show will be about his foreskin and its historical circumcision.

Soon, however, the show fell distinctly flat. Rosenthal delivers a great deal of the material through frenzied shouting, which seems to blast the audience back and highlight a massive difference in energy levels between him and them. Rosenthal appears to be afraid of the audience’s response, and so does not play off the audience or reflect them at all. This makes him look quite vulnerable on the stage, and as though a lot of the time he is pressing on with a pre-rehearsed performance to a reticent and put-off audience. His energy is sky-high throughout, which makes it easy to get desensitized to it. It also means most of the jokes aren’t emphasized and are lost in the barrage. Overall, I didn’t find this show funny, even though it was marketed as a comedy. I laughed perhaps four times in an hour.

As Rosenthal himself asserted, this show is very well-referenced and researched: he has had video calls with a professor who has researched the impacts of circumcision. Rosenthal is extremely honest and open about the negative impacts his circumcision has had on him emotionally and physically. He uses a variety of unexpected, memorable props to illustrate his points: a colour-coded graph showing the drastically lower penis sensitivity in uncircumcised penises compared to circumcised ones, the heavy weight he attached to his penis at age 14 to make his foreskin grow and a gold penis-cap he wears to prevent chafing. Circumcision’s horrifying effects are exposed and Rosenthal is clear that his circumcision has caused him worry in every stage of his life.

Rosenthal finishes by naming the professor as the inspiration for the show. He plays a video in which the professor suggests that comedy might be a way to make people pay attention to a topic that is usually ignored. I wish the  product were funnier. However, it is inventive and creative – and I could listen to Tom Rosenthal talk for hours about anything.


Tom Rosenthal: Manhood runs until the 25th of August – buy tickets here.

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James Sullivan

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