Tonight I was at All bar One in Derby for the Funhouse All Day Edinburgh Preview show. This is a nice spacious outdoor venue and the sun always seems to be shining on the drive out there. It does, however, drop awfully cold in there once it gets dark. This is a shame, as I’d feel odd walking in wearing a Summer shirt and Panama hat with a greatcoat tucked under my arm for when it gets chilly. There were some very good numbers in for the shows, which was wonderful to see. Our compere, Spiky Mike kept it tight and swiftly introduced the Panel Beaters, describing it as the possible highlight of 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.
After the Panel Beaters, it was Diane Spencer who was giving her new show some stage time. This show was a work in progress, rather than the finished article and at present is something of a mixed bag. Spencer has a light and pleasant demeanour, with a warm smile, which makes her darker material work all the better, as it is unexpected. She also has a skill with accents, which is a definite advantage. However, I felt it was the material that made this show a curate’s egg.
The topics that she speaks about are: being a stepmum, kids, marriage, dieting, her mother and sewing. Some of these are very well travelled areas and it is hard to stand out when building a show around them. In particular, when talking about kids, even with Spencer using original material, it felt as if I’d heard something similar already. There were some very nice touches, such as product failure, Desmond/Hairdressers, ruined with personality, acropolis and Superman – these were all funny and entertaining.
However, there were some other things, such as half a house and well that’s my name for her, which I think the audience got to the reveal before she did. The dietary advice from her Russian friend was good, but the side effects were possibly stretched out a tad too long to keep the momentum. I found the section on sewing to be very original and accessible, especially the section on washing instructions, but felt that it could have done with a little bit more. The same could be said of the show itself – it was accessible and pleasant, but not a lot stood out. In fairness, Spencer did receive some good laughs from the audience and this is nice to see on a show that is a work in progress.