It’s a strange situation when you go to a comedy night and the MC is the biggest draw on the bill. Although less well known south of the border, Craig Hill (pictured) is something of a star name in his native Scotland. In fact, he was well known even before he was famous, such that here in Edinburgh people still remember him as the assistant at one of the Royal Mile souvenir shops who regularly accosted elderly American female tourists with free samples of shortbread by asking them if he could “tempt them with a finger.”
But since finding television fame on BBC2’s “Live Floor Show,” Craig has never looked back and is now a regular on local TV and radio. A natural entertainer, almost a force of nature, he bursts onto the stage with the energy of several atom bombs, resplendent in muscle shirt and army camouflage kilt, performing a gyrating hi-energi dance to Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite, and generally camping it up so that you would be forgiven for mistaking him for the secret love child of Liberace and Danny LaRue.
Craig could be the perfect compere, he has the ability to have any audience eating out of his hands within minutes of taking to the stage. His only problem is a tendency to overshadow the other acts on the bill. But that isn’t a problem for the audience, as evidenced when he asked a middle-aged guest house owner in the front row who had never been to a comedy show before why he chose this as his first one, and received the pointed answer, “because of you.”
Another unusual aspect of this particular night at The Stand was that the entire bill was exclusively Scottish. The first act was Chris Forbes, a young comic from Bridge of Weir, whose set, I have to say, was variable. He was entertaining enough, as such, but doing the opening spot, I got the distinct impression that he had not long stepped up to this level, and was trying to stretch material that wasn’t quite enough to fill the allotted stage time. His opening was sound enough, a pedantic examination of a New Scientist article on environmentally friendly arms trading. But by the end of the set he was giving the audience rather too graphic descriptions of his bowel movements, which in all honesty smacked a little of desperation.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Ailsa Johnston either, but I think that may have been more my problem than hers. The best comedy comes from recognition of the situation, and Johnson, groomed up to the nines with more make-up than an air stewardess and a fake tan that could blind at ninety paces, based most of her humour around the experience of being the kind of girl whose interests in life are clubbing and shagging and whose cultural heroes are Jordan and Jodie Marsh. It all seemed to go down well in certain sections of the room, but I’m afraid it left me stone cold.
Things improved somewhat when Gary Little took the stage. An old hand at this game now, and one of those comics that you would know by sight even if you didn’t recognise the name, Little clearly has a wealth of material from which to pick and choose. But even here things were a little off, and as a lengthy routine about a lads stag party trip to Auschwitz, which promised great things, fizzled out without anything resembling a punchline, it seemed to me like the whole night was starting to feel a little flat.
Maybe at such times, that’s when you need a little old time religion to see you right. And if you can’t get any of that, the Reverend Obadiah Steppenwolf III will have to do as a substitute. A character based act, the creation of comic Jim Muir, the good reverend staggers onto the stage in a grubby white suit, beer bottle clutched in each hand, and rips into the miserable sinners gathered before him with the brain-addled logic of a wino. In all honesty, hiding behind this persona is mainly an excuse for Muir to spend the majority of his stage time hurling abuse out into the audience, but he does it so well that it is enough.
Perhaps it was just that Steppenwolf is one of the few acts around with a personality big enough to stand up alongside our Craig (bless his little cotton socks.) But it rounded off the evening perfectly, and left the impression of a night which, if it wasn’t among the best of Stand experiences, was at least good enough.