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.

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