Tonight I was in Nottingham to see Kevin Bridges who is touring with his show: A whole different story. This was at the Royal Concert Hall, which looked to be sold out at £25 a ticket. I had a central seat, albeit one right at the back of the stalls. Prior to Bridges, it was Karl Spain, who was supporting.
Spain has one of the hardest and easiest jobs in comedy – that of supporting a big star. This is hard, because the audience haven’t paid to see you and in all honesty, have probably never heard of you and are just marking time until the big guy comes on. However, it is also easy, because you are actually performing in front of a crowd who have paid good money to see comedy and are out to laugh and enjoy themselves. A far cry from performing to a group of drunken stags and hens on a Saturday night. Spain did 30 minutes, beginning with a bit of room work, using the front row and late comers. Due to the size of the room (2000 people, over 3 levels) it is hard to do much more. He received laughs, but his remarks were fairly broad and pedestrian – no surprise when you have so many people to try to appeal to. Spain wasn’t a huge presence, but he didn’t really have to do much work to keep the room happy. The audience’s natural state was well disposed towards comedy, which at £25 a person was no surprise. He had some nice gentle stories and this made for a pleasant and relaxed start. Oddly, he began with what I thought was his stand out line, that about his gym membership and Gerry Adams. This was a beautiful little joke that got a really big laugh.
There was a short 20 minute break after Spain, before Bridges began. Over the show a fair amount of ground was covered. Diet, moving to a more salubrious area, the difficulty of having a Glaswegian accent, art, technology and then sleepovers. Some of these were great, some merely good, none particularly bad. There was a set piece that almost, but not quite became a running gag, involving the artist Diego Rivera, where Bridges would recite a number of facts about him. This could have been entertaining, but I felt it a bit of a stunt. It was similar to when someone recites every name for a car and then finishes to an applause break, which is awarded more for the effort than the actual comedy value of the recital. There were a few shout outs, but not many and not enough to be irritating. These gave him a chance to ad lib responses, most of which involved a call back (such as the lost audience member who was a postman), which demonstrated Bridges to be very sharp and on the ball.
As is usual with these big theatre gigs, Bridges would have had to work very hard to lose the room. Naturally he was in no danger of even coming close, but it did grant him a lot more leeway than a comedian usually gets. His show lasted over a hour, without another break and after 50 minutes the room did reach a tipping point as regards concentration. Being sat at the back, I could see plenty of bright rectangles, as a lot of the audience checked the time on their phones. A couple sat directly in front of me got up and vanished, never to return. I felt that whilst the show was well delivered and had some very nice routines, it would have benefitted from being a bit more tightly edited in places. The big routine about sleeping over (house rice) was a bit flabby and overlong. A shorter, more condensed version would have hit harder and this could be said about much of the night.
The highlight of the show, was the encore. Bridges held a Q&A session, where he demonstrated that he is fast on his feet mentally and able to work quickly with things he was asked. This was more impressive than any amount of regurgitated data about a Mexican artist. This had a wonderful feel of the here and now, which live comedy should have. There was a similar peak when he ad libbed during routines. This was an entertaining night, but it could have been a great night with tighter routines.