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.