NCF – Bean Caffe – James Cook, Scott Bennett

This afternoon I was in Derby for the final day of the comedy festival. The venue was the Bean Caffe (I still think that’s a silly spelling) and the promoter was NCF. Originally I was to be going to the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse all-dayer, albeit only to see two shows before going to the Bean Caffe, but the all-dayer was unfortunately cancelled. When I got into my car the thermometer said it was 29 degrees. I still work in Fahrenheit and I’ve no idea what it translates to, but it was bloody hot all the same. The first song on the iPod shuffle was The Kinks and Sunny Afternoon, which was certainly apt. Luckily it didn’t take long to get to Derby and I was there in time for the first show, which was Mr James Cook.

I wasn’t originally scheduled to see Cook’s show. Instead, I was hoping to see Brennan Reece, but even before the all-dayer was cancelled, I had rejigged so my day would run thus: Caimh McDonnell, James Cook, Scott Bennett, tea, write up reviews then mow lawns. I changed it to include Cook for two reasons. One, I’ve seen him before, where he proved to be the most delightfully sarcastic MC I’ve yet seen. This performance was mightily impressive. The second reason is that although I’ve not played a board game in 20 years, the premise of this show, entitled Always be Rolling, sounded nicely different and also intriguing.

This was a show that made good use of visuals and audience interaction; to the extent that every member was given a ‘I think you’ll find….’ card, to indulge the pedantry that is latent in board game players. I can imagine that rule lawyers are to board gaming what Grammar Nazis are to online discussion groups. These cards were used fairly often during the show and made it feel very inclusive, as well as saving Cook from 5-6 conversations with people at the end. He began in gaming tradition by having to roll a 6 to start. In a probability defying display of recalcitrant dice, he had to go through 15 audience attempts before someone rolling a 6. This was then followed by a presentation and dance, which for some reason, seemed to remind me a bit of Kenny Everett. This set the scene for the next hour, where he went through a number of board games.

He began with the common ones that everyone has played and which are probably in most lofts, Snakes and Ladders (with great Phantom Menace tie in), Buckaroo and then Monopoly, which is a game as ubiquitous as it is argument inducing. Buckaroo involved a live action reconstruction, which was fun, but could have benefited a bit from a few more items. Owing to the omni-presence of Wil Wheaton in board gaming circles, I finally gained an understanding of his appearances in the Big Bang Theory, thanks to this show. Cook moved on to discuss other games, such as Guess Who, Scrabble, both Brummie and Albanian, before talking about games that are less well known. These were mostly German games, with highly questionable packaging, the sort of packaging that induces a yawn rather than excitement. These proved to be not only interesting, but also just as funny a territory as the well known games. Cook recounted his experiences at a gaming expo and I felt his line about his placement out of 7 billion should have had applause. The finale was a live action Hungry Hippo, which was a fitting climax to the show.

Cook kept the tone affable and light, which made the topic easy to grasp to novices. The visuals were great, with each picture adding something to the mix and visual gags being a-plenty. I especially liked the visual jokes that appeared after the show had concluded, almost as a Ps and then a Pps. The show contained the unlikely combination of Nazis, Ron Jeremy, a photo-bombing sheep and The Hoff, which is an eclectic mix. It was well paced and delivered confidently and proved to be a most enjoyable hour.

The next performer was Scott Bennett, who was running through some work in progress in preparation for the Edinburgh Festival of 2017. I’ve seen a lot of Bennett recently, but he is definitely an act who can be watched often. I really enjoy the relatability of his material and above all, his delivery. This is a comedian who is a rock solid act. Today he was working off of a clipboard, which reminded me a tad of Dennis Norden and just to save anyone checking in this year of celeb deaths, yes, Norden is still alive at 94. Ironically, Bennett didn’t need the notes that much, as a lot of his material he delivered without having to check its’ placing. He began by playing a bit of ‘shit town bingo’ where he was unlucky enough to mention a town he’d gigged in and one that he had lived in when the audience contained residents of both. This passed off to good laughs.

Bennett then entered the main body of his show, which dealt with life, stickers on fruit, a speed awareness course, babies, his family, Postman Pat and teddy bear deaths. Some of these topics have been covered before, such as speed awareness courses, but Bennett has his own unique take on them and as always with his material, he made it very relatable and entertaining. Trying for a baby, having a baby and then the impact of a baby is a staple of comedian’s of a certain age and owing to the mechanics of a baby arriving being similar for all, this can be tricky to cover without inadvertently sounding familiar to other acts. Bennett managed this by using some lovely lines, such as ‘for babies on shifts’ and ‘a wheelbarrow full of gravel’ which could only come from him and make his work on this topic fresh and enjoyable.

The difference between a set and a show is that a show has an overarching theme and comes to more of a conclusion than merely a set period of time having elapsed. The theme of this show is to do with the passing of life. This is seen through the stickers on bananas and other fruit. This is a work in progress at the moment and so this may change. Whilst a theme may please reviewers and industry people, I’m not totally convinced Bennett really needs one. What he HAS got is a show that is already funny and entertaining and given his style, to me, that is enough – I’m happy with that. Although these are fairly new ideas, this material, allied to Bennett’s ability to make it relatable and credible provides great fun.

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