Bar One – Edinburgh Previews – Geoff Norcott, Big Howard and Little Howard and Tony Cowards

Tonight I was in Derby at Bar One for the Funhouse Edinburgh previews. The weather was pretty foul on the way there with a huge downpour, but luckily this held off whilst I was at the venue until the last 3-4 minutes of Tony’s set. There was a huge crowd for the first show that I saw, but as exhaustion set in (the shows run for the best part of 8 hours) this gradually thinned out. It was nice to see Brent and Neal Sullivan present. I saw the last three shows of the day, beginning with:

Geoff Norcott – Right leaning, but well meaning

Norcott is a comedian who is definitely making progress in the industry. He occupies a niche in being one of the few comedians who aren’t left wing and this has helped to get him spots on The Today Show, Question Time and The Mash. It’s nice to see talented people getting a boost like this. Tonight, though, he was unlucky in the running order. He was the 4th comic of a day which opened with the human Duracell bunny Pat Monahan and then Ian D Montfort and immediately preceding Norcott, Christian Reilly, a musical act who from what I was told by a few people, smashed the gig. I think the change of pace in being the first low energy comic without a character act or instrument diluted the impact that Norcott would have had. He was funny and did well, but I don’t think the room responded as well as what they might have done if he had had a different slot and he may have come away with a slightly downbeat view of how things went.

With his London accent Norcott always sounds a bit exotic to me and it takes a second for me to tune into his voice. It’s different to hear phrases from down there and he’s the only person I’ve ever heard say ‘mugged off’ in real life.

Last years’ show, Conswervative, explained his politics. Right leaning, but well meaning is an account of the reactions he’s received, plus updates following the political upheavals of the year. As you’d expect the references are all bang up to date and this show is very easily accessible. No one was sat there wondering what he was talking about. In one way it is perhaps a bit too accessible in that as everyone has a share in the subject matter to one degree or another people, weren’t shy in shouting the odd thing out. This never became a problem, although one group of people leaving early did take pleasure in a witticism about having to catch a train…. in 4 hours time, which as heckles go was entertaining.

There are some areas in this show that require a spot of work; these are the sections where a story is fun, but would benefit from a bigger ending, such as swimming pool and real man. The reference to Billericay probably plays well in the South East, but I’ve a feeling that up here more people thought it was in Ireland, rather than Essex and just using Essex may be more obvious. However, there are a lot of very nice lines in to be had. The opening gags about the DUP are strong, there was an applause break for the Queen, the company definitions were fun, the tweet – which incidentally was the only time he had to refer to his notes and that was just to get it spot on – was very good, voting was excellent as were the chants. The closing routine was not only a logical and natural one, but it actually had the feeling of a big climatic ending and I liked it very much.

This is well written and Norcott is a skilled performer (good with Scouse and Ulster accents, too, which was a nice bonus) and this was a very enjoyable performance.

Big Howard and Little Howard – Man and Boy

This is a nicely quirky show that has bags of charm. It’s also one where it is essential to secure a seat with a good view, as a lot of the action is projected onto a screen. Big Howard makes for quite a striking presence, wearing a suit and the sort of facial hair that reminded me of Jim Tavares and Little Howard is very different.

This show is a double act with Big Howard being flesh and blood and Little Howard a cartoon and to make it work this well relies on a number of factors. It has to be funny, which it definitely is (court summonses tickled me pink), it has to be well put together (it’s pretty much seamless) and Big Howard has to be a good actor in order to bring the show to life and he does go into this with gusto. Big Howard is also mature enough to give Little Howard all of the best lines. There are a few other creations who make an appearance, such as a chicken who plays a key role in telling Big Howard off and my favourite, Roger from Barnsley, whom I think was on just enough to get a lot of mileage out of without risking overexposure. The solo from Big Howard during the middle nicely broke up the show and stopped it from going stale and the politics callback was nicely subtle. However, this does suffer a bit from a few things that are overdone – the finger pulling was fun, but perhaps 2-3 fingers too long and whilst I’m not a fan of musical comedy, I think a few other people might not have objected to one song less being performed, but obviously not Haberdashery or the big closing number as these were great.

There were a couple of interruptions during the show, with ‘I weep for your children’ being half understandable in context, but still one of the more bizarre things I’ve ever heard an audience member shout out. The interruption by the McAfee logo, however, was serendipitous and Big Howard made the most out of that. As this is an Edinburgh show there was a lot of material pertaining to The Bucket and this was done very tastefully. This show was not only funny, but had bags of charm and is worth seeing not only because it is something different, but also for its own intrinsic comedy value.

Tony Cowards -Punderdog

I was really hoping that my mum would be able to come and see Tony, as she would love his show, but owing to the old man being at a regimental do, she couldn’t make it,which was unfortunate as she missed a wizard show. Cowards is phenomenally talented and I’m always surprised that he’s not on panel shows or the wireless. He’s not afraid to go highbrow with things like space and time, which relied on the audience being smart to get the punchline and it was highly impressive watching him come up with a pun based around the profession of everyone he spoke to. This was only topped by his lightning fast response when challenged to pun the Large Hadron Collider (not a topic I’d have expected in a million years or so) when he had people shout out topics whilst he did extra during a storm which no one wanted to walk home to.

Cowards began, though, with some solid opening gags and for the next 50 minutes or so never looked back and remember that this was in a room where a lot of people had spent the last 7 hours laughing, so there was a level of weariness to be overcome. As a one-liner expert, Cowards has a great work rate, but also a great hit work, too, with ‘memories’ being the only joke that the room didn’t go with. Every so often there would be a double laugh as some people caught onto jokes later than others and this seemed to ensure that there was always someone laughing in the room. I thoroughly enjoyed the film puns, but my personal favourites are the blood types. The middle section broke up the stream of jokes with some nice visual gags and a true story about a heckle he received when gigging at a rugby club. I can remember him posting on facebook about the heckle on the night it happened, so I’m totally confident that it is true, but it is one of those stories that is that funny I shouldn’t be surprised if half of the room thought he was making it up. Cowards finished the show with a couple of songs which he sang in a rather good voice. Tony has a couple of tics, such as saying ‘yeah’ or ‘fantastic’ and these did become noticeable over the course of the show, but they didn’t ever come close to getting in the way of enjoying the comedy. This was a buoyant ending to an evening of laughter.


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