Monday, 11 February 2008

A Tart at Vicar's (DVD review)

During the four years I spent living in Dublin, one of the really great things was that, my flat being just behind the Guinness Brewery, I could leave my front door and within ten minutes stroll I could be at Vicar Street. And the reason that was so great was that Vicar Street was where all the cool kids came to play. The big names, the international megastars, may have stuck to The Point, or the Gaiety, or the Olympia, but if you wanted the proper raw atmosphere of a real gig, Vicar Street was the place to go.

I saw some great acts there over those years. From Tommy Tiernan and Ardal O’Hanlon, to Rich Hall performing as support act for his own Otis Lee Crenshaw, to the brilliant, yet totally unknown outside Ireland, sketch comedy troupe Apres Match. (Twice.) The atmosphere of the place was always fantastic, and as such it is no surprise to me that virtually every live DVD that comes out of the Emerald Isle is filmed there. Andrew Maxwell Live In Dublin is merely the latest in a long and illustrious tradition.

Maxwell is rising very quickly to the top of the comedy tree. From the cult following he has gathered around his Fullmooners late night showcases, to his frequent television appearances on RTE’s The Panel and BBC2’s Mock the Week, as well as regular guest spots on various other panel shows. Clearly the man works like a Trojan, and yet he makes it look effortless. Not only that, but I saw him live twice during the same year in which this DVD was recorded, and yet over those three sets, each an hour or more in length, hardly any of the material was repeated.

One difference with this show, of course, is that he is playing to his home town audience, and as such can occasionally speak in a shorthand that outsiders might not understand. So jokes like “I grew up in Kilbarrack, or as my mum would say, Raheny,” may go over non-Dubliners’ heads. And with jokes about people from Tallaght, the Angelus, watching Nuacht, and a final story revolving around speaking in Gaelic in order to get laid, it is clear that this DVD was very much designed for the Irish market, where his Panel appearances have made him a household name.

But there’s also plenty of material that is universal, including excellent routines about playing a black comedy club in New York, or antagonising Rangers supporters at a Hibernians football match, as well as a lot of material about Edinburgh which made me feel right at home!

The thing that Maxwell does so well is to break down the invisible barrier between audience and performer. Not in a slick “hey, where you from,” audience patter kind of way. But by talking in such a natural, rough and ready style that you could almost imagine that he’s chatting to you over a pint in the pub.

Of course, live DVDs can never take the place of the real thing. But they have their place, especially in the case of big stadium shows where the humour can so often get lost in the wide open spaces that sometimes they are actually funnier in the confines of your own living room. But this is the antithesis of that kind of show. It’s very much a club gig, with no impressive stage set or flashy effects, just a guy with a stool, a microphone and a pint of Guinness.

But then again, so many of the great early comics are lost to us because their best shows were never committed to film. Today’s acts are luckier, their careers are being documented in this way. If you can catch Maxwell live, do so, because he really is one of the best performers still regularly playing the club circuit. But if you can’t, this DVD is pretty good as a “second best” option.

1 comment:

Clair said...

Year before last at the Edinburgh Fringe I saw Maxwell at a BBC recording of various different performers. He was so funny we were genuinely finding it difficult to breathe. Unfortunately a lot of his set was considered unsuitable for a Radio 2 audience, and never made the final transmission.