This has been a very enjoyable month for comedy with 46 individual reviews. I have been to the usual mix of pro and open mic nights, plus a few seasonal Edinburgh Previews. Ironically, the best night had a ticket price of only £1 and featured 7 up and coming acts. If that was the best night, then the best actual performance was a panel show, which provided me with the funniest hour I’ve ever been lucky enough to see.
These are the acts who have impressed me the most this month:
He has lots of natural charisma and provided the audience with a wonderfully varied set that had pretty much something for everyone.
From the night:
I have only seen White once before and that was in Derby, where he was a panellist on Panel Beaters. This proved to be the best show I have seen this year and so I was more than happy to see him on the bill. To begin with the room seemed a bit lukewarm towards him, but he won them round very quickly, probably within the first minute and a half. His line about resembling Dr Who was inspired and the added reveal with Chelsea fans was great and these firmly established his credentials with the audience. White’s set gave the room a lovely mix of gags, small routines, songs, dancing and visual jokes. I like it when a comedian mixes it up like this, as it seems to make the performance fresher. One technical facet that I and perhaps only I noticed, was the fact that White had been paying close attention during Mike’s compering. He knew people’s names and who was sat where and was able to work this into his set. It is ruddy jarring when a comic who hasn’t been listening asks the same person their name 2 minutes after the MC has and White easily avoided this, which I appreciated, as it gave the night a feeling of coherency. There were a lot excellent bits of material contained within this set, such as the reference to Japanese porn – it is always fun seeing who laughs at porn related jokes, as a fraction of a second after they’ve laughed they suddenly seem to realise that they’ve just outed the fact that they have cookies they need to delete. Germans in sheds was nicely self-explanatory and White wisely left it at that as it worked better with the audience not needing more in order to get the joke. I felt that the highlight of this set was a tie between Al Qaeda and the lullaby. Both worked extremely well and were easy to access. This was a splendid set that I thoroughly enjoyed, with no less than four applause breaks being given.
Big Howard and Little Howard
This was an Edinburgh Preview and was nicely different to the usual fare.
From the night:
Howard Read was performing in an unnamed show, featuring a double act with a difference – his partner is his cartoon friend, Little Howard. He began with an explanation of how the show would work, which was wise, as this is something a little bit unusual. He certainly hit the ground running, forming an immediate rapport with the audience, who bought into the concept in a big way. This is an incredibly well thought out and creative show, with the sort of attention to detail that one would usually associate with genius’ like Tom Binns. Read has obviously taken a lot of time and trouble with not only getting the basic ideas right, but then in refining them and adding those little additional touches that push the jokes even further. Examples of this include the panda stretching out its paw, the demise of the crab on the wire and the light bulb materialising slowly. There were other things that also impressed me, such as the final reveal on driving to Brum, cat bugler, which is a simple idea, but very funny and Little Mix, which I thought deserved more than it received. The reference to Steve Austin worked surprisingly well, given the age of the show.
This was a performance that never came close to getting stale, as Read would switch nicely from being upstaged by Little Howard into a solo routine, using good solid material from his club 20. Even when going solo, Read mixed it up a lot, combining audience work and songs. His safari into the audience as the Fart Whisperer went down very well and helped the audience to feel involved. Read’s inclusion of myself as a reviewer, as someone whose fart he read was made brilliantly relevant by the results of his divination and he was rewarded with an applause break, one of probably half a dozen that he earned. There were three songs, the wonderful bedtime lullaby, a chaotic (in the spirit of Tiswas) duet with Little Howard and a fantastic song about Haberdashers, that worked even better when Read got out of synch with the visuals. I did feel that the separate shops idea needs a little bit more, but considering the sheer quality of the rest of the show, I’m sure that is new material.
Reed is very dry in his delivery, his voice reminding me a touch of a sped up Norman Lovett. He is also totally convincing, playing it totally straight with Little Howard, which really brought him to life as something more than just a character. The audience thoroughly enjoyed this show, which had more than enough variety to keep everyone happy. I thought that it was superb and massively enjoyable.
Discount Comedy Checkout
Another act that stands out for being different, but in a way that is inclusive.
From the night:
The headline act was the Discount Comedy Checkout, an improv troupe, with a very good reputation. Last night it was just three of the four, owing to work getting in the way of art. We had Chris, Eddie and Natalie present, which given the size of the snug, was probably the optimum number. The set up was that a number of games would be played, with the audience making suggestions regarding style and location, with a bucketful of suggestions and comments utilised for mirth. The games consisted of a scene set in a mortuary, with a wonderfully quick witted use of Brian Clough’s body and a couple of comments from Eddie about Leeds, which worked extremely well for those old enough to remember his spell at Dirty Leeds, or those who have watched The Damned Utd. This was followed by a game based on film and theatre, with Chris and Eddie changing styles rapidly. It was highly impressive how they managed to sum up the essence of each genre not so much with what they said, or even how they said it, but just from body language. How they stood, or rocked on their heels or simply just a movement of the head added weight to the illusion that the cocktail bar was now in Tombstone or Dodge City. This was incredibly powerful to see and was a massive crowd pleaser. The newscast about a plumber doing a good job was really brought to life by each of the characters, especially Eddie who slipped into and out of each person with total conviction. Book chat, the final game was a more difficult proposition, as I found it very hard to concentrate on what Natalie and Chris were saying whilst Eddie was signing for the benefit of the hard of hearing. This was a fantastic set from a group who work extraordinarily well together. No one hogged the limelight, things were left open for other members to get a laugh. There was a lovely number of callbacks to Fran’s compering and it felt like this show was for the whole audience. This performance was a great closing act, probably impossible to follow if they had been on earlier.
The Panel Beaters
This is a wonderful panel show and one that if the various Telly bods had any guts could be bigger than Shooting Stars.
From the night:
The format of this panel show, devised by Caimh McDonnell and Gary Delaney, is for three contestants to attempt to be funny over a number of rounds and then at the end, Death, picks the funniest one to bump off, based upon the audience’s vote. On one level, the format is almost irrelevant, as naturally funny people will be funny doing almost anything, but on another level the inclusion of Death makes this delightfully quirky and provides a framework for the show.
Tonight our contestants were, Scott Bennett (RIP following Death picking him), Gary Delaney and Andy White; the host was Caimh McDonnell and Death was a splendiferously dressed up Andy Robinson.
The vibe of the show was established long before McDonnell had gotten half way through his introduction. This was to be a boisterous knockabout show with an element of organised anarchy from the contestants. All of the panel were in fine fettle and were bouncing off of each other like spinning tops and this infectiously added to the feel good factor of the show. McDonnell and Delaney have a great chemistry together and can cheerfully say the most appalling things to each other, making themselves and the audience laugh, or snort and laugh if your name is Delaney. Robinson played Death as a deadpan Brummie, possibly because he is a deadpan Brummie and the sight of him corpsing every so often was both surreal and a joy to see. Death occupied a role that was similar to George Dawes in Shooting Stars, being of the show, but not really fully involved and with the ability to interject with a killer line as and when he chose, almost like a comedy sniper. This worked fantastically, from the great visual stroking gag, through to escorting an elderly chap from the building and returning, wearing his hat (looking rather like Tom Baker whilst he sported the hat). Robinson timed his comments well, keeping them sparing enough to make the most of them.
There were a number of rounds, such as Elevated Pitch, What gets my Goat, Hashtwats, Heckles from History and Future News Round. These were introduced by McDonnell, who acted not only as the host, but also as the referee, making sure everyone got the chance to speak. He had the job of keeping the show on track and ensuring that it stayed within its’ slot. At times, he resembled a slightly harassed convener at the annual anarchists conference, but this was all part of the fun. In a quick moving show, not everything is guaranteed to land, but obviously with the calibre of acts involved the misses were very few indeed. Some of the highlights were a series of interlinked gags from White, which ended on a showstopper of a song, with an added reveal that really ramped up the mirth just when one thought he had finished. Scott Bennett, whom I primarily think of as a very talented ‘set’ comedian, who can build up a massive head of steam over twenty minutes, had an excellent night showing what he can do with one-liners and pithy comments. Him discussing lettuce and working in a splendid reference to James Bond intros was great. The Heckles from History was my favourite round. There were a number of very clever heckles, and I’d have loved to have seen more of that as it was simply superb.
This was a fantastic show and is probably the best show (as opposed to night) that I have seen. It was that funny I hurt myself laughing. I understand that Delaney and McDonnell are approaching Radio 4 with this concept. A bowdlerised version of this show will still be entertaining, but I think it will fail to capture the sheer joie de vivre. A late night slot on Dave or Channel 4, which would allow everyone free reign, would be magnificent. In the meantime, I hope this show continues, as it would do very well touring universities and comedy clubs. My advice, is that if you go to just one comedy show this year, go and see the Panel Beaters.