What happens if you have a pub that wants to hold a comedy night and then doesn’t follow the advice of the promoter? Instead, they make it a free comedy night on a bank holiday Sunday and have an audience that is dominated by a large party that have been drinking since midday. The answer is an uphill struggle.
Although this was a challenging gig, it wasn’t down to bad management by NCF – they had given a lot of good sensible advice. It wasn’t down to the acts as everyone did their best. The fault was down to people simply drinking too much and not giving the comedians the chance to entertain them.
It’s ironic, as this could have been a nice night. The line up was decent, the promoter runs great gigs and whilst the room didn’t have that good a layout for comedy, NCF had definitely made the best of it. However, the real problem was the audience, not all of them, but there was a large group, sat right at the front, that were very much a unit and who dominated proceedings. Whilst they are probably all sound when sober and nice individually when drunk, taken together they made this gig pretty much unplayable. Right from the beginning, our MC, Pete Phillipson, would have his hands full.
Phillipson began his compering by doing the rules, explaining that the audience weren’t to talk whilst the acts were on, but to talk to him, instead. He worked hard to impose his authority, but frankly it was a bit like watching a man shouting at a car that won’t start. This was no fault of Phillipson, it was just down to a crowd that didn’t want to be quiet and I don’t believe that any other compere would have managed to get a better result. He did some room work and then material, which went down well and then once he had got the room as settled as it would ever be, he brought on the first act. For his second stint, Phillipson concentrated on material and this went down very, very well. His skill with accents added a lot of life to this and the fact that the material was relatable without inviting shout outs helped a lot. He received good laughs for this and it was lovely to see him doing well – this was how the night should have been.
Our opening act was Tom King, who is consistently strong and reliable and was probably the best choice to go on point duty. He began nicely with some banter, accepted a free Jaegerbomb and then went into material. Despite getting some very nice material out (Elephant man was good), the audience remained talkative, wanting to join in. This came to the fore when he began to discuss comments from doctors, at which point the audience mistook a rhetorical question about giving a sample for a chance to have a free for all with suggestions as to what reason someone may have given a sample. The consensus was aids and to pretty much everything Tom said afterwards, some ‘helpful’ person would shout out ‘aids’. King riffed with this, as he could see which way the wind was blowing and in truth he did build up some impetus with it, but it was still like watching a man drown with the audience pushing him back under every time he tried to make something of the night.
Next into the mill was Rob Kemp, or the Angry Monkey, as someone in the audience christened him. He followed the mood of the room by asking for a cheer if you have aids, which brought him some goodwill, but unfortunately didn’t help settle a room that was probably beyond settling at this point. I’ve not seen Kemp in a long time and so I was especially looking forwards to seeing what new material he had. As it happens, I didn’t find out, because every time he began to get into a set up, the audience played up, although his Nuremburg reference went over a lot of people’s heads, which was no fault of his. Largely abandoning his set, Kemp went with the flow and bantered with them, looking at a tobacco tin that was passed up for his perusal and gaining laughs for pointing out fictional spelling mistakes. Not something you see on Live at the Apollo, I’ll grant, but under the circumstances, it went down very well. Kemp discovered that the more he insulted the room, the more they liked him and several told him so during the intermission. I will never understand how a room that can completely derail a person’s set to this point will then go and thank him and tell him how good he was when they never actually got chance to see just how good he could have been.
The recently wed Thomas Rackham opened the second session. He began by discussing drink, which is decent material, but was too subtle for a drunken crowd. However, he scored a good hit with his section on beetroot juice. It was at this point, though, that the audience’s attention evaporated and he struggled to get material out. His comments about bunting, merely starting a conversation about what it was. Instead, Rackham bantered successfully and although, like everyone else, he didn’t have their full attention, his charming manner kept them very much onside as he counted down the minutes of his set and he resisted attempts to get him to sing Bohemian Rhapsody.
Andy Woolston was next and unfortunately owing to the crowd he also struggled to maintain his authority. He did gain some when he did a section about building dens, but it always felt fragile and his line about is this actually real just led to calls for him to sing Bohemian Rhapsody. I felt that there was a set trying to get out, but every time he began to try to set something up, the drunken audience just shouted out something inconsequential and robbed him of a chance to entertain them.
In contrast, Hannah Silvester was the only person to get a gig out of this show. She simply climbed onto the stage and put her head down, launching into her set, largely ignoring the shout outs. Very quickly she was receiving good laughs and building momentum, which was no mean feat. Although the audience largely treated her with respect, she was the recipient of some bizarre shout outs that were totally inexplicable. Silvester had a good time and ended on a high with a song.
After a brief intermission and then some extra time out due to various circumstances the gig ended with the headliner, Ben Briggs. He began strongly by making some honest comments about the audience, the district and how happy he was to be there, all delivered with enough of a grin to keep everyone with him. From here he began to go into some material about old age and misery, but before he could make any real headway, he was receiving shout outs. At this point, Briggs went into attack mode and this was beautiful to see. He came out with the priceless line that this gig was like walking through the hospital in ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest’, which gained a huge laugh from audience and comedians alike. From this he then worked his way through the audience insulting people as he announced how many minutes were left until he could go home. This took a lot of guts, but to do it, make people laugh and to hold the room for twenty minutes took intelligence and chutzpah and Briggs pulled this off mightily. The more he insulted people the more the audience lapped it up, getting an applause break for a knock-knock joke that temporarily silenced one chap. Even a bizarre heckle about how many fingers people find never made him lose his impetus. At the end of this wonderfully insult laden performance, Briggs announced that although him and the audience had started off on the wrong foot, he was now sure he had brought them round. This resulted in a massive laugh, a lot of applause and a small standing ovation. This was a remarkable performance by Briggs who broke a lot of the rules of comedy and pulled it off handsomely.