Monday, 10 March 2008

Natalie Haynes, Susan Calman - The Stand, Edinburgh, 04/03/2008

Officially, this was billed as a “Wicked Wenches Special” to tie in with the club’s monthly night dedicated to female comedians. In reality, however, it was essentially a stop off in Natalie Haynes latest club tour with Susan Calman, billed as MC but actually serving as more of a support act.

The diminutive Ms Calman opened up the evening with a set of around half an hour, starting with the usual MC type “chatting to the front row” duties, served well on this night by the fact that it seemed to be almost entirely occupied by upper middle-class Edinburgh University students, including the impossibly posh “Flick” whose cut-glass vowels led Calman to suggest recreating “The Running Man” by dropping her off in the middle of George Square in Glasgow and seeing how far she could get.

She proves herself an accomplished compere, but if I have a criticism, it is that she probably did a little too much of the audience interaction, on a night that didn’t really need it. On a usual club night it would have been fine, but on this occasion, most people had come specifically to see a “name” comedian and didn’t necessarily need so much warming up. So it might have been nice to see more of her set material, because when it came it was very good, particularly her routine on what a crap superhero she would make.

It seems strange that Natalie Haynes has now been performing comedy for over a decade, because when she started out it was still very much a male dominated field, and the few females able to make it usually had to do so by compromising their femininity. So it can’t have been an easy task for a relatively well-balanced, Cambridge educated and, let’s not beat about the bush, rather easy on the eye woman to try to break into that world. But break into it she did, becoming in the process not only a well respected headline act, but winning herself regular TV and radio work as well as a gig as a columnist for The Times into the bargain.

Haynes charm lies in a slightly warped world view combined with a liberal sprinkling of nerdishness. There are few stand-up shows you can attend, for instance, where it helps to have a comprehensive knowledge of US daytime detective shows Monk, Murder She Wrote and Diagnosis: Murder. Not that it’s essential, you understand, but it does help. These, together with a thorough deconstruction of the plot of Logan’s Run do form a sizeable segment of the show.

We are also treated to a lesson in Latin grammar demonstrating very conclusively why the “C” word is actually far more pleasant than the “V” word when referring to female genitalia, which bizarrely leads to an explanation of why Pythagoras probably got more than his fair share of chicks. And in less random moments she explains to us the etiquette of swimming-pool bullying, the fact that she turned down the opportunity to torture fellow vegetarians in order to entertain us, the moral implications of buying Ikea furniture, and how IQ is related to pram size.

Haynes performance seems effortless, but is often delivered at such breakneck speed that you find yourself marvelling that her mind manages to keep pace with her mouth. Like the best comics she manages to take huge circular digressions without ever losing the thread of the show. And although she fits more material into an hour and a quarter than some manage in an entire career, still the time seems almost too short and you would happily go on listening to her skewed logic all night.

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