Thursday, 14 February 2008

Mark Olver, Lloyd Langford - Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh, 12/02/2008

There are times, standing in front of a packed room when you are taking the audience with you every step of the way, when comedy must surely be one of the best jobs in the world. But there are other times when it must be bloody hard work. Trying to entertain twenty-nine people (I counted) in a room that can hold nearly two hundred would be one of those times.

I couldn’t say for sure why this gig was so poorly attended. It was organised by the Edinburgh University student’s union, but open to outsiders if they knew it was on. That was probably part of the reason, though, because it doesn’t seem to have been advertised outside the university campus at all. I only found it by accident, and on arriving found a poster showing it was somewhere in the middle of a whole series of Tuesday night gigs, many of the earlier ones of which I would have gone to if I had known they were on.

But why more students didn’t attend, I don’t know. It’s a shame, because both of these comics deserved a better audience. They both worked hard, with mixed results, to win over the meagre group that had made the effort to come and see them. And having both travelled a long distance for a couple of midweek shows, they will both probably think long and hard before accepting a similar booking in the future.

Lloyd Langford was affected worst by the lack of attendance. A young Welshman in his early twenties, he’s clearly a talented lad and probably has a decent future ahead of him in the stand-up game. But he doesn’t yet have the experience and stagecraft to be able to cope with a night like this one, and there were times he was very visibly floundering. His performance was very stop-start, and he seemed unable to build up any momentum, and often it seemed more like a free-for-all down the pub chat with a large group of people rather than a comedy show. But for all that, I would like to see him on a proper club night some time, because I think with a decent audience in front of him he has the potential to be very funny indeed.

Mark Olver, on the other hand, while not exactly a “star name” on the circuit, can at least be described as a seasoned pro. His day job, as warm-up man for Deal or No Deal, has taught him how to handle any kind of audience, and he quite quickly adapted his set to the environment rather than trying to force things.

He started the show by making me, personally, feel guilty. This was not his fault, I hasten to add, and he couldn’t have known. But having ascertained that I was not a student, he asked if I had come specifically to see him. I had, as it happened, as it had been recognising his name on the internet listing that made me say, hey, let’s go along. However, he had a show on in the Fringe last year, and I hadn’t gone to that because I had been put off by the rather simpering expression he was wearing on the poster. So when he replied that he was pleased, because hardly anyone ever came specifically to see him, and then explained that it was because of the posters, and because “they have this face on them,” it was a little close to the bone.

This led into a routine about how few people came to see his Fringe show, and how he had given away chocolate biscuits to the audience in the hope that people would tell their friends and it might encourage them to come. “One show I had one of those king size rolls of jaffa cakes,” he said. “It was over-optimistic. A packet of club was more than sufficient.”

This set was also extremely informal, but it was born of experience rather than desperation. His warm-up gig has clearly taught him how to feed off the audience, and he made it feel as if he was confiding his secrets in a small group of close friends rather than playing a show, which worked very well in the circumstances. Furthermore, while many solo Fringe show comics are currently milking the last drops from last year’s shows, Olver is clearly already in the transitional stage, working on new material for the coming year, which led to him frequently referring to a notebook of ideas and asking people what they thought he should do, again working with rather than against the small numbers in the room.

A large part of the set consisted of confiding his ideas for this year’s Fringe show, and if nothing else he has probably ensured that many of those in the room, myself included, will surely attend to see how it worked out. Overall, I came away wishing I had made the effort to see him before. Olver is probably never going to hit the big time, or be anything more than a working comic, but he is highly professional, experienced, and most importantly, he makes you laugh. And what else are you going to be doing on a Tuesday night?

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