Thursday, 31 July 2008

Fringe Preview - Miles Jupp: Drifting, Dining Room at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 30/07/2008

Since winning So You Think You're Funny seven years ago, Miles Jupp has gone about having a quietly successful career combining stand-up with acting roles, most notably probably as Archie the Inventor in the BBC children's series Balamory.

Most of his stand-up career has been as a kind of character act, albeit the character being essentially himself, a "nice but dim" upper-middle class, slightly out of touch with the real world ditherer. His appearance, the unfashionable spectacles, wilfully unstylish wild curly hair, puppy-fat face and twenty years out of fashion clothing, has always added to and enhanced this persona, almost a shorthand for what was going to come.

So when he bounded onto the stage for this performance, looking fit and trim, contacts firmly in place, short-haired, trendy bearded and wearing well cut jeans and a casual shirt, it took a moment to realise that some random stranger hadn't just wandered into the wrong gig.

But that was a good thing, because it meant that Jupp had nothing to fall back on, no easy crutch, and had to rely on his own wit and personality only to carry the show. And for the most part, he did just that.

This is occasionally a hit and miss show. Jupp tells long rambling stories, some of which work superbly well, but others seem to fizzle out with nary a final punchline in sight. For instance, his tale of testicular trauma had the audience virtually rolling in the aisles, but the following story, involving a dead dog, just went nowhere and left you wondering what exactly the point he was trying to make had been. Later, on the other hand, he shows himself to be a man after my own heart with a lengthy rant on the state of the British railway system that is absolutely spot-on.

But with the main weapon in his arsenal, his easy public school charm, present and intact, he is an impossible act not to warm to, and as such an hour in his company passes comfortably. While it probably won't be the most laugh-out-loud show you will see all through the Fringe, it is definitely worth checking out if you want to be left with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Luke Toulson, Stuart Black, compere Sam Stone - Soho Comedy Club, London, 21/07/2008

Looking for good comedy while finding yourself free for a night in London, at the moment it's difficult to go wrong. My only problem was trying to find an Edinburgh preview show featuring artists I wasn't likely to go to see during the Edinburgh Fringe itself. This one seemed to fit the bill. With two comics I had heard of, but wasn't terribly familiar with, it was a perfect opportunity to catch them at this rough and ready stage of preparation and see whether they might be acts I would want to explore further in the future. As it happened, in both cases the answer was yes.

Sam Stone hosted the evening, but in all honesty had very little to do on this kind of occasion. With only twenty or so in the audience, all crammed into a small stuffy room above a pub off Charing Cross Road, she had the chance to chat to pretty much everyone, find out where they were from, what they did, but there was little by way of warming up needed and she sensibly kept things brief and got the acts on in quick time.

Luke Toulson (above) is a tall shambling man, possibly best known for those with children as Captain DJ in the BBC kids series Space Pirates. That this fact has failed to impress his own five year-old son formed part of his act, much of which was taken up with similar disappointments experienced in his life.

The show, subtitled "There Are So Many Things I Can't Do," is Toulson's first as a solo performer, although he is something of an Edinburgh veteran, most recently as part of a double act with Stephen Harvey. He tells us it follows the story of two journeys, but in all honesty, as with many of these shows, that is just a framework on which to hang material of all kinds, and although he tells us of a journey to Italy to propose to a girlfriend, the details are sketchy and not really followed through at all.

But that's okay, because his material is good, and even though many of his subjects are well worn, such as a lengthy diatribe about the crapness of Ryanair, he does manage to draw some extra mileage out of them without them ever seeming hack. Indeed I had only one complaint in terms of subject matter, that being did we really need yet another joke about dyslexics not being able to spell dyslexia?

Overall, Toulson is shambling and scruffy and easy-going, and overall an easy person to warm to and the sort of act you could imagine having a pint and a chat with, and his act has plenty to keep even the most hardened punter amused.

Physically, at least, Stuart Black could not be more different from Toulson if he tried. Where the latter is gangly and awkward looking, Black is small, sleek and ferret-like. But where there is a similarity is that they both adopt a slightly distracted style to their delivery. In Black's case, to the point where he spends much of his time wandering around on stage, ever-present beer bottle in hand, looking a bit lost and as if he isn't quite sure what to say next.

But the audience should not be taken in by this approach, because it soon becomes clear that he knows exactly what he is doing. The delivery may be fragmentary, but the material itself is anything but, the humour cutting and very direct. Meanwhile his soft West-Country accent lulls you into a false sense of security so that the killer punchlines seem to land with much greater effect.

Black is a relative newcomer by comparison with Toulson, but in all honesty, of the two, is the one I would say was the more likely to go on to great things. Certainly both have the potential to make good club headliners, but Black has that extra quality which makes him one to look out for, and the originality of routines tackling such subjects as why watching hardcore porn makes you gay, shows the kind of off-kilter mind that you imagine could find the humour in almost any given situation.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Andrew Maxwell, Soho Theatre 12/07/08

With only two and a half weeks to go before the opening of this year's Edinburgh Festival, comedians across the country are working hard to iron out any kinks in their new material before presenting it at at the "exams for clowns". Because of this you will find in random venues the fun that is the "work in progress" show.

A work in progress show can be a dangerous thing, occasionally presenting material that hasn't been thought through, doesn't work and isn't funny. Fortunately, with Andrew Maxwell, this isn't the case. Although not yet as slick as the final show will be, the material was strong, and very funny. Maxwell also knows how treat a WIP crowd, making fun of himself and the occasional need to refer to a some jotted down notes without allowing it to disrupt the atmosphere of the evening.

Maxwell's show considers Evil, the concept with a capital E. What he finds is mostly that there are a lot of misguided and incompetent people, but Evil is a lot harder to find. The show is very funny, but does something which I love in a comedy show, which is to use the comedy to make you think of something a bit more serious.

So yes, the show's not perfect yet, but I have every confidence that it will be fantastic by the time he opens the doors at the Pleasance Courtyard, and heartily recommend it to everyone up in Edinburgh. (And think of me while you're there enjoying yourselves...I can't make it up this year.)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Interview: Go Faster Stripe

Partly because it's gone a bit quiet on here, and partly because I'm feeling guilty at having contributed very little since the site's inception, here's a post that went up on my own site last summer all about Cardiff's premier champions of stand-up comedy, Go Faster Stripe.

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Over the last year and a half, I've written a great deal about what seems to me to be the wealth of musical talent to which Cardiff is home. But it's important to point out that there are many other creative enterprises going on in the city, all deserving of promotion and wider attention. One such enterprise is Go Faster Stripe.

At a time when only the biggest comedians - Peter Kay, Ricky Gervais - seem to get the opportunity to record DVDs (which subsequently sell by the bucketload), the Go Faster Stripe team invite top-class stand-ups to perform in front of live audiences at Chapter and have the performances recorded for sale online. Not only does this mean that Cardiff is suddenly attracting some bigger names - I've seen Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Robin Ince at Go Faster Stripe gigs - but it has also ensured that whole shows haven't passed into history unrecorded. That foresight and generosity should be applauded.

Fresh from a scouting mission to the Edinburgh Festival, GFS's Chris Evans was kind enough to find time to tell me a bit more...

How did Go Faster Stripe come about?

"I read on Stewart Lee's website that he was sad that his show '90s Comedian' was not going to be recorded. He'd tried to give it away to late night satellite channels, and no one was interested. I was sad about this too. And then I remembered I've got a few mates that know one end of a camera from the other, so I wrote to Stew and told him. We recorded the show, and it surprised everyone when it came out rather well."

What inspired and / or continues to inspire you?

"People in any walk of life that follow their heart, rather than money. In the comedy world, it's the comedians who are doing something new with the artform. And they do this even though they remain at the sidelines of the business."

How many people are involved in the work of putting together each DVD?

"There's five of us at the recordings - two cameramen, a stills photographer, a sound guy and me. Chapter supply a couple of staff to collect tickets and operate the lighting. Once we've got the show, we've an editor who makes what we've recorded look lovely. And then there's the sleeve designer, who also does our adverts - although he's the still photographer too, so I don't know if that count as another person. Finally, my girlfriend packs up the orders that we get through our website."

Which has been your favourite DVD to record so far?

"I've only asked people that I love - so I couldn't possibly pick one. They are all magnificent."

Who would you most like to work with?

"I think it might be interesting to work with a much bigger name - someone that is - or at least has - had a big DVD produced for them. I think the way we record stuff is often more powerful as we record it in a more intimate setting."

What are the plans for the future? Any new releases on the horizon?

"There's an unstoppable machine in action. We've got new DVDs coming out from Simon Munnery, Robin Ince, and another from Richard Herring. These are all in the can, and are at various stages of post-production. And in September [8th, at Chapter], we are filming a show with Lucy Porter, which will be lovely."

Great to see a venture like this snowballing. Thanks to Chris for his time, and best wishes to the team for the future.

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Since the interview, the Simon Munnery, Richard Herring and Lucy Porter DVDs have all come out (not quite sure what happened to the Robin Ince one), and their new release is Wil Hodgson's 'Skinheads, Readers' Wives And My Little Ponies'. Plans are afoot for them to branch out into publishing, too, with a book of the first six months of Herring's blog Warming Up in the pipeline.