Saturday nights at the Stand can usually command a pretty strong line-up, but it has to be said that this was one of the strongest. When even the ten minute spot is occupied by a recognisable name comedian, you know you are onto a winner.
The quality showed right from the very beginning, as Sandy Nelson proved himself to be a quite excellent MC with just the right qualities needed for that job. He knows exactly when to push and when to hold back, and exactly where the line is to keep the audience on his side and having a good time. On this evening his job is made much easier by a family from Livingstone on the front row out to celebrate their daughter’s particular milestone birthday which she really didn’t want discussed.
Donnchadh O’Conaill’s job as the opening act was not made easy by a disturbance going on to one side of the club which resulted in some patrons being ejected. But he dealt with the matter well, and with humour, and while his set wasn’t the brightest of the night, he nonetheless gave a good account of himself. A gangly blonde-haired Irishman, his slow-paced, downbeat humour was mainly based in his own social awkwardness. But if that sounds depressing, it’s the care with which he has put his set together with a marvellous mastery of wordplay that ensures that it isn’t. Relatively new to the scene, after winning the Chortle Student Comedy award two years ago, he isn’t the finished article quite yet. But he shows enough to be able to predict that he eventually will be.
It was strange seeing Andrew O’Neill, now a battle-hardened Fringe veteran of many years’ standing, in the slot usually reserved for relative newcomers. But in a way it was a good spot for him, because it forced him to tighten up his usually surreal and meandering monologues which can take a while for an audience to get into. He still produced a number of his bizarre trademark asides, bursting onto the stage with a song about a hot bus. But his bizarre goth appearance tells the audience straight away not to expect straightforward humour, and spending most of his set discussing the problems of being a heterosexual transvestite, while certainly unconventional, seems to work very well.
The slight leftfield approach to the evening continued into Wilson Dixon’s set. Dixon is a musical comedian with a character based set. With an improbably large ten gallon hat and obviously fake long hair, he introduces himself as a country singer from Cripple Creek in the Rocky Mountains, and frequently relies for laughs on wrong-footing the audience, setting up jokes so you think you know where they are heading before sending them in totally unexpected directions for the punchline. Between the songs his softly spoken drawl is sometimes a little hard to hear, but it is worth listening to.
Jo Caulfield has, over the last decade, become one of the most successful and instantly recognised female comics in the country. Known for her frequent appearances on panel shows such as Mock the Week and HIGNFY, she also has her own Radio 4 series, and was head writer for So Graham Norton. All of which is merely background to the fact that she is also a damned fine stand-up.
Her comedy has always been slightly barbed, that of a person irritated that the world is mostly populated by dimwits, and she adopts a style where she is your acerbic best friend embarking with you on a marathon bitching session. And of course it works because, for the most part, we agree with every word she says. However, there was a sense in the show that this was a case of getting a bit more mileage out of last year’s material before developing a new show in time for the Fringe, and some sections felt a little dated. It could be said to be a bit lazy to still be doing gags about John Smeaton and the Glasgow airport attack a year on.
That said, for the most part the set had a little bit for everyone, using a general scattergun approach, and she is a hard act not to warm to. And after three slightly unconventional acts, it was probably best to end with a safe pair of hands, with the overall result of a highly successful night all round.