Playbill Pick: Palatable Gay Robot at Edinburgh Festival Fringe | Playbill

Playbill Goes Fringe Playbill Pick: Palatable Gay Robot at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Stephen Brower plays a version of John Mulaney in this solo show, if Mulaney was a robot suffering from an existential crisis.

Stephen Brower in Palatable Gay Robot

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!

As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we're sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you're only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.

Meet Billie Bowtie, the latest AI product from HumaVibe. He’s perfect for gossip, date nights, and fundraisers. He’s never overbearing or offensive, and he always knows the right thing to say. He’s a palatable gay robot.

The show begins with a voiceover from a trustworthy product designer, welcoming Billie into the world. Billie is charming, charismatic, and well-dressed, but there is a bug in his programming. He has developed a habit for telling rude jokes, and must be repeatedly corrected with a stern word from the product designer and a flashing red light. An example: “How about Aladdin in that little waistcoat? I’d like to see his hole new world?”

What results is a fast-paced and characterful stand-up routine, with performer Stephen Brower (last seen on Broadway in Anastasia) deftly handling the robotic physicality while landing every joke. And if a campy, well-dressed, straight-haired stand-up routine sounds familiar—Brower is equally self-aware. No sooner had I scribbled “John Mulaney” on my notebook that the man himself was name-dropped.

In the show, the increasingly desperate product designer tries to get things back on track (shout-out to the flawless tech on this show, these voiceovers didn’t miss a beat). She instructs Billie to power down and try again. The lights fade and…we’re back to the start of the show! But this time, we’re powering through the jokes at double speed—a feat of performance from Brower—until we’ve caught up with ourselves. 

A song and a dance later, and things continue to go awry with Billie. Let’s try a different AI interface instead: How about Antonio, your loyal best friend? Or William, the straight-passing wedding guest? Or your big-hearted hairdresser? Or your gossiping frenemy? Brower dances between these stereotypes, adopting new voices and physicalities with a crank of his magnetically-attached bowtie. But the problems in this product presentation don’t stop there.

The bug in Billie’s programming brings out an even worse flaw: his humanity. Billie replays memories from his time on Broadway, lingers on lost friends, and ponders what it means to be gay. His product designer suggests that “gay means happy,” to which a thoughtful Billie responds, “I wish it were that simple.” It is here that the extended metaphor comes into its own. Who taught Billie that there is a right way to live? Who programmed his thinking? Why must he fit into a mechanical stereotype? Brower deconstructs societal expectations and, by sharing his heartache and humur, breaks free from his programming.

This is some sophisticated writing. It’s not just a stand-up routine, nor is it just a play or a gimmick. Like Billie, Palatable Gay Robot is complex, hilarious, and human.

Palatable Gay Robot has finished its Fringe run at Greenside at Infirmary Street. But considering the team is made up of New York-based artists, we won't be surprised if this robot is switched back on very soon. In the meantime, learn more about the show here.

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