Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Steve Hughes, Josh Howie, Nick Davies, Jim Park, compere Joe Heenan - The Stand, Edinburgh, 26/01/2008

Most weekends, the line up at the Stand stays fixed from Thursday to Saturday in both the Edinburgh and Glasgow venues. But this week the Glasgow branch was closed for a private function on Saturday, and as Steve Hughes had been headlining there on the previous two nights, they switched him over to Edinburgh presumably rather than let him go elsewhere. As such, he took over top billing, and Joe Heenan, who had been doing a full spot on the other nights, switched over to MC duties.

It was a role he took to well. Very much a blokey type of comic, Heenan joshes good-naturedly with his audience with a big wide grin always fixed to his face. Audience interaction is maybe not his natural element, but he warmed everyone up nicely, and his daft suggestions for how to respond to the announcement of each new act was a winner. (My favourite was, “in the style of Christopher Walken.”)

Tall, curly haired, bespectacled and wearing a very natty suit, Nick Davies performed the opening act looking for all the world like a used car salesman. But appearances can be deceptive, and he quickly proved himself a very capable performer indeed. A Mancunian who has been living in Edinburgh for eight years, much of his material revolved around the differences between English and Scottish culture, and the strange Scots idioms that make it like speaking a foreign language. His routine about directions to Scottish locations was a particular hit.

Jim Park was less of a success, for me at least although he seemed to go down quite well. He performed deadpan humour very much in the style of Norman Lovett, with the same air of someone who had just wandered onto the stage accidentally and felt he might as well do something now he was there. But unlike Norm, who performs this kind of act effortlessly, with Park you could see his mind working the whole time and it just didn’t really come off.

Josh Howie is a Jewish comedian unashamedly inspired by Woody Allen, and it shows. Much of his material consists of the same sort of neurotic intellectual act that Allen made famous, but he has developed his own style around it and it suits him well. One slight problem is that, with his slightly bland looks, unlike say a David Baddiel or an Andy Zaltzman, he needs to announce his Jewishness before he can move on to Jewish based humour, which makes for a slightly awkward moment, but one he manages successfully to integrate into the act. He has good stage presence, and makes some brave choices in material, and I’d expect to see him around the circuit for a long time to come.

Attending one of Steve Hughes’ shows is always part comedy part educational experience. Hughes takes his audience through detailed explanations of the military-economic complex which shores up a world order controlled by a cabal of old money families who control governments and create the world in their own preferred image. But he never forgets to add a punchline. He’s got the look for it as well. With his long straggly hair, wild eyes and big scary grin he looks, for all the world, like he should be an old testament prophet of doom, rather than an Australian former heavy metal drummer.

But Hughes doesn’t do exclusively political material. He casts his eye far and wide over a whole range of subjects, from life in his native Australia, through why straight is the new gay, masturbation in hotel rooms and on to the X Factor, the last two not being all that different come to think of it. The strange thing being that, having seen Hughes several times over the last few years, the majority of the material was not new to me, and yet somehow he has the charisma and the character to make it feel fresh. He has a force of personality that seems to burst off the stage and infect everyone in the venue, and it is this quality that puts him among the most exciting comics working the circuit right now.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Tom Stade, Teddy, Elaine Malcolmson, Keir McAllister, compere Bruce Devlin - The Stand, Edinburgh, 16/01/2008

If there’s one unwritten rule of comedy clubs, it’s “don’t sit in the front row.” Especially if, like me, you are the kind of figure the comedian’s eye is always drawn to. And even more especially if you have a pair of pink haired goth-girls sitting alongside you. But unfortunately, on this night, by the time we arrived it was front row or stand, and I’ve never been one to take the chicken’s way out.

Bruce Devlin certainly wasn’t going to resist, but first he had the little issue of the loud Essex “service delivery” woman out entertaining clients to deal with, particularly her apparent reluctance to explain exactly what service she delivered, as if it was a state secret. But Devlin is an equal opportunities offender, he works his way systematically around the room making sure everyone gets a little bit of the sharp end of his tongue. He’s a natural at the compere role, big, camp and bitchy, he is always ready with an appropriate barb no matter what is thrown his way.

Keir McAllister makes for a good opening act. A young, personable and good looking Dundonian, and those are words I never thought all belonged in the same sentence, he works the room well, mixing prepared material about his own life with some good off-the-cuff moments. In fact you could almost forgive him for having written Kate Lawlor’s act for her “reality TV” foray into stand-up.

Elaine Malcolmson is a new name on the circuit. A diminuitive Irishwoman, she has been doing stand-up for about six months and is still feeling her way. Cleverly, she avoids the pitfalls of potential heckling by performing a highly stylised act. Staring off into mid-distance, never making eye contact with the audience, she mumbles non-sequiters into the microphone as if distracted by something else, like a cross between Stephen Wright and Hattie Hayridge. And if she isn’t, yet, in the same league as either, some of her lines hit home and bode well that, with a bit more experience and a bit of personality development, she could be a decent club comic.

Teddy is a name I’ve heard bandied about, but who I’ve never seen before. I’d heard good things of him, so was quite looking forward to his act. But whether this was an off night, or just not my cup of tea, I found him the most disappointing performer on the bill. His opening material, about how his entire act had been ruined by finding happiness, was amusing. But from there he moved on to a series of gross-out stories which he clearly thought were shocking and cutting-edge, but which were in fact mildly dull. Not one I’m going to be rushing to see again.

The same cannot be said for Tom Stade. He’s been on my “B list” for the last two Edinburgh Fringes, the list of shows that I’d like to “get around to.” But somehow, on neither occasion was it got around to. So this was my first time of seeing him, and while it’s difficult to judge just how good he was on the grounds that he spent half of his stage time making me part of his act (front row, remember,) it certainly seemed to me that he was very, very good indeed.

Much of his act revolved around the fact of getting older, settling down, having kids, and how it all takes you by surprise because it was the last thing you were planning on. This was material which struck home with me, possibly one reason I was singled out as his stooge for the evening. But while this is standard comedy fodder, Stade takes the material in unusual directions, with a sharp incisive mind which analyses every minute aspect and finds most of it wanting. Meanwhile his easy smile and laid-back demeanour lull you into a false sense of security, disguising the often savage way he sticks the knife into his topics and twists just that little bit further than you would expect.

With the likes of Phil Nichol, Glenn Wool and Jason John Whitehead, Canada seems to be a fertile breeding ground for comedy right now, and Stade easily belongs on that list, the equal of any of them. One not to be missed.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Chris Rock: No Apologies – Hammersmith Apollo, 11/01/2008

A decade and a half ago, I was offered the chance to go and see Bill Hicks live. It was in Birmingham, and the timing wasn’t really very good, so I turned it down figuring I would have another chance to see him the next time he was around. Less than a year later he was dead. There was no other chance. It’s a mistake I wasn’t going to make again. So the minute I saw that Chris Rock was coming over this side of the Atlantic for the first time ever, my ass was on Ticketmaster.

The hype has been tremendous, with many calls that Rock is ready to join the likes of Hicks, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce in the pantheon of great comedy gods. His problem, of course, is that each of those who came before have won their place, at least partly, by either dying young or, in the case of Pryor, having their career cut short through illness. It is difficult for a comedian to be taken that seriously while they are still active, and suicide seems a rather drastic way to clear up the matter and one I’m sure Rock would sooner not follow.

But whether he is among the greats or not, surely anyone compiling a list of, say, the hundred best stand-up routines of all time, could not fail to include his “Niggas vs Black People” and “$5,000 Bullets” in there somewhere. And if there was nothing of quite that same calibre on show on this night, there were at least a couple of moments when he came close.

But before we get on to the main event, I should say a few words about the support. Mario Joyner is a successful comic in his own right. In America he has had his own TV shows, as well as making several feature film appearances. And he is a funny guy. But the difference is notable when you come to a venue of this size. Joyner just didn’t have the personality to fill it, and he looked lost in the middle of such a giant stage. So material that would probably kill in the close confines of a comedy club was only capable of raising some mild tittering here.

Rock has no such problems. He has personality and charisma to spare, and he has learned his craft well. And it is also clear he has studied hard at the feet of his own heroes, Pryor and Eddie Murphy. He prowls the stage like a predator, with the sudden halt and stare when he wants to emphasise a point that is pure Pryor.

One problem every performer who crosses the Atlantic to do comedy in either direction faces is the cultural shift. Rock acknowledges this straight away, telling the crowd that he had to arrive a few days early to find out what would be funny here. He then goes into a short routine clearly designed just for the UK shows, specific British material about how worthless the dollar is compared to the pound, and whether or not darts is actually a sport. But for the most part he sticks to what has obviously been prepared as his show for the whole tour, and simply trusts that we will be familiar enough with American names and personalities to get the references.

And that is good, because the middle section of the set, where he analyses the current US primary elections is probably the strongest sustained material of the night. The material about what it would be like to have a black first lady (“no, you ain’t president, we is president”) is among his best, and thankfully he doesn’t labour the Bush material which has been done to death by this point, contenting himself with a few choice barbs, the best being pointing out that Bush has been so bad, the electorate are willing to elect anyone now so long as it ain’t another white man.

For the rest of the set he mostly relies on old standard material, relationship humour and riffs on racial differences, which is good stuff but doesn’t really mark him out from what anyone else is doing. Although in the latter he manages to hit his absolute peak, a moment of near comic genius when he explains the one and only occasion on which it is acceptable for a white person to use the word “nigga.”

So perhaps the hype has been a little overpushed, and the press hyperbole has gone a little too far. But Rock, if not necessarily the greatest comedian of his generation, is certainly up there among them, and opportunities to see these guys are all too few and far between. It was a long trip down to the smoke, on a blustery snow-bound night, but I’m glad I made the effort. Let’s hope he doesn’t leave it so long before giving me the chance to do so again.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Glenn Wool, Addy Van Der Borgh, The Wee Man, Liam Mullone, compere Susan Morrison – The Stand, Edinburgh, 05/01/2008

The first weekend of the new year saw a strong line up, featuring three well established acts as well as one of the Stand’s most dependable hosts. Susan Morrison may look like somebody’s mum who just wandered in off the street, but her brand of Glasgow gutter humour never fails to warm up even the most hard hearted of crowds. Tonight she had comedy gold on her side as she taunted a youngster from a work party in the front row with threatening to make a man of him, only to inadvertently reveal that one of the others present had got there first.

Liam Mullone was first up, who, despite his Irish sounding name, is a big, shambling, ex public schoolboy type with a delivery somewhat reminiscent of Harry Enfield’s “Tim Nice-But-Dim.” But despite his shambolic appearance and befuddled style, his material is sharp and nicely observed, including a lengthy routine about flight safety procedures and the importance of always leaving an aircraft that has landed on water by the middle emergency exits because they have the longest slide, and if it’s the last thing you’re ever going to do you may as well have fun doing it.

The Wee Man began, apparently, as a YouTube phenomenon, but is now making a go of it in the clubs. His Ned/Chav persona has been done many times before, of course, but giving him his due he managed to get some fresh mileage out of it. With an impenetrable Glaswegian accent he was probably unintelligible to the non-Scots in the audience, a fact that he riffed on during the act. But he managed some good material, particularly on the importance of how you wear your burberry cap making all the difference between being an ordinary person or a “threat to society!” His set was no more than ten minutes, and probably the right length. Any longer would have become annoying, but as it was he left a decent impression.

Addy Van Der Borgh has been around the circuit for a while, long enough to become a slick and polished performer. Blessed with a nose which in any other profession would be a drawback but in stand-up is like gold dust, he only has to walk out onto the stage to get his first laugh of the evening. But his opening was material about his alcoholism which, while strong, I first saw him do over two years ago and which, as such, should probably be retired by now. That said, what followed was more entertaining confessional comedy covering standard relationship type topics, and with his wide eyed expressions he manages to pull a good few guffaws out of the bag.

Headliner for the evening, you can generally take it to the bank that Glenn Wool is going to put on a good show. But I have to admit I think this was an off evening, not helped by a total wanker of an Irishman in the audience who threw all his toys out of the pram just because Wool, in a practiced routine, suggested that Ireland was not the greatest country on earth. First trying to engage the comic in argument and then pointedly turning his seat to face the back of the room before finally storming out, he really just showed himself up as a childish idiot, but nonetheless it seemed to throw Wool off his stride.

But to the rest of the audience he seemed to go down very well, and my own disappointment may just have been because I had heard much of the material before, the set having seemingly been cobbled together from bits of his last two Edinburgh Fringe shows. Nonetheless, with his laid back stoner demeanour and his mightily impressive ‘tache, he’s a hard man not to warm to. Meanwhile, nobody should be deceived by his helium high Canadian drawl and his lethargic delivery, they mask some quite incisive humour, particularly when he gets onto his pet topics of religion and intolerance.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

What is The Laughter Track?

The Laughter Track is a term used in television for the fake laughter added on to the background of a situation comedy. You know, the really bad ones where they try to convince you that there is a live audience who find absolutely every word that comes out of any character's mouth hysterically funny, whether it was intended to amuse or not.

Good sit-coms tend not to use a laughter track. They either give you the laughter of a live audience, or none at all. That's the way it should be. There should be no need of a laughter track. We should be the laughter track. That's what this site is all about.

All good comedy starts with live comedy. Whether it is a situation comedy, a sketch show, or just someone standing there with a microphone in their hand, that's where it all begins. That's where the best performers and the best writers cut their teeth, and learn how to be funny.

And they say laughter is the best medicine. Good for what ails you. Comedy allows you to laugh through the good times, and more importantly, allows you to laugh through the bad ones as well. Some of the best comedy has come along at times of the worst adversity.

That's why the live comedy scene is so important, and why it needs to be supported. Today comedy is big business, and the top comedians can perform sell-out tours of huge barn-like arenas and charge over-inflated ticket prices. But they all started out somewhere very different. They all started out, an unknown face, standing in a room, with nothing but a microphone, and with the faces of strangers staring at them saying, go on then, make me laugh.

We have started this site as a way of supporting the live comedy circuit of the United Kingdom and Ireland. The contributors are people who have enjoyed live comedy at various levels, from the dingy clubs and back rooms of pubs to the wide open spaces of the arena shows over a number of years, and would like to infect others with their own enthusiasm.

Through reviews of live shows, and news of upcoming events, the aim of his site is to encourage people to get out and experience live comedy more. To look at what is happening on the comedy scene in their own part of the country, and to support it. We would hope, eventually, to have contributors from all parts of the country, and would welcome anyone to join us who shares our enthusiasm.