Thom Tuck is indeed an August Institution. He's been a staple of the August Fringe comedy programme for at least a decade, and his work is known for embodying the spirit of a Fringe festival – from early improvisation, through acclaimed sketch group (and long-form comedy play creators) The Penny Dreadfuls, on to a darkly funny musical and the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society, where all expectations must be suspended in the name of comic experimentation. So it's hardly surprising when he starts his hour with a song by a favourite band, Mountain Goats. The song's not funny, he explains, but we are going to have lots of fun. And so we do.
This show is a scrapbook of ideas, random and creative: the disparate musings and fascinations of a clever mind, who enjoys tickling others as much as himself. Tuck likes to be right, he lets us know from the off. And it would seem that we, the audience, are the rag-tag orchestra to his eccentric conductor – in part to assist in demonstrably proving him right, and also in generously receiving opportunities for us to be right too.
As in any diverse scrapbook, some parts are stronger than others. They appeal to different parts of the psyche. Tuck is most widely known for straight contemplative stand-up, thanks to BBC Radio 4 and the series that spun off from his acclaimed show Thom Tuck Goes Straight To DVD, and he draws us in with this talent. He links tattoos and political affiliations in a semi-mathematical manner – a taster for another section, where his fascination with numbers and their mathematical properties proves a little problematic, when common terms aren't quite as common as expected.
The room is small and the show feels intimate, even when comfortably full. So when Tuck involves audience members in a geography test, or in helping him with his own adornment, it's not so much a lowering of a fourth wall as a generous invitation to be more involved in the tomfoolery. It's a conspiracy, and we're a part of it.
As an intellectual will-o'-the-wisp, Tuck mixes general knowledge with an almost passionate silliness. But that general knowledge is clearly broader than most people's, and he can sometimes leave us grasping for a starting point that isn't always there and isn't always provided. Tuck makes us work to understand, and it isn't a given that we'll understand absolutely everything by the end of it. It isn't always easy, but it's certainly engaging.
Holding court, Tuck is a marvel on stage. He is never without something interesting to say or do, twisting expectations and inviting all to join him on his jolly intellectual jape. Long may he remain an August Institution… as without this kind of inventiveness, there would be no Fringe.