Tonight I was at the Canal House to see part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival. This evening was something of a double headliner for me, as I had tickets for Pat Monahan and Tom Wrigglesworth, who was performing in the same room after Pat. It was going to be interesting to watch two masters of their own genres at work. A dapper dressed Elliott Bower was on MC duties for both gigs. He did the rules and in the case of the Monahan gig, he had an absolutely charming method for ensuring that mobiles phones were turned off. Bower kept it light as MC and he and Helen did well to keep things mostly on time.
Monahan is a born entertainer. If he were in a lift with two other people, then I can well imagine that would be enough people to constitute an audience for him. I’m equally sure that if Monahan were to talk in his sleep, then he would probably be bantering with the people he was dreaming about. Should Monahan ever try to do a tightly written 20 then it would feel claustrophobic. His forte is free-wheeling audience interaction and Pat does this magnificently. He began by leaving the stage to personally greet some latecomers, before starting a big song and dance number with a few members of the audience up on stage. The show had a 80’s theme, but the format was loose enough to allow Monahan to pop off in any direction he chose, depending upon what he got back from the audience. In talking to people it is tempting to say that he was lucky in the people he spoke to, from the Rochdale supporter to the couple allegedly on a Tinder date, but that is to underestimate the talents of this performer. I believe that Monahan is skilful and experienced enough to make his own luck. Even when he was chatting to someone not so quick on the uptake, he had a selection of lines to use to make the most this and no matter what responses he received there was a quip for them. It requires a lot of ability to be able to ad lib callbacks into such an interactive set as this and so these were an especial joy. This was a high energy show, where the set piece bits of material probably comprised 10% of the whole and it retained a fresh feeling throughout.
In a stylistic contrast to Pat Monahan, the next show was by Tom Wrigglesworth and this was totally sold out, with seat monitors prowling around, showing people to the odd spare seat. Wrigglesworth is well known for his series, Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang-ups, which is broadcast on the Home Service. This is a cleverly written show, where the everyday is made farcical and the farcical is given an everyday twist. This approach to material was in evidence tonight, as recalcitrant printers, pretentious names, Dubai and that staple topic of comedians, the speed awareness course, were all mined for their preposterous elements. Wrigglesworth has the ability to make anything offbeat sound logical and normal, with his take on the name Cockburn sounding like a most reasonable interpretation. The main thread of the show was a story about a speed awareness course, but in a manner not unlike Frankie Howerd, Wrigglesworth allowed himself to digress several times, always ultimately returning back to this original topic. The effect of this was enchanting and naturalistic.
To me, though, as good as Wrigglesworth’s material is, it is his phrasing that I find a sheer delight. This is a man who has an unparalleled grasp of the English language. Whilst he may be accused of being verbose, I would refute this allegation, by pointing out that every word he uses is perfect for what he is describing or imparting and it is nice to see a comedian not afraid to use long, or uncommon words.
There were a couple of times where Wrigglesworth’s momentum was checked by a chap sat at the front, who seemed to have misguidedly continued the expected and encouraged audience interaction of Pat Monahan’s show into that of Wrigglesworth. Whilst Tom easily maintained his authority and came out on top of every exchange, I felt that whilst these episodes were entertaining they were inferior to the actual show proper and I was always glad to see him resume from where he had left off. It was nice to see a comedian of this stature acquiesce to the calls of an encore and this was a great show. It was a pleasure to see the Canal House sold out; these shows were a great tonic for a cold and miserable November day.