Sunday, 19 December 2010

Are there...visible otters?

I had been looking forward to seeing Stewart Lee for ages. Ever since I saw him do an Edinburgh preview at Fat Tuesday back in July I was convinced that he is the best comedian on the circuit today. For those not in the know, Stew first came to prominence as one half of Lee and Herring who in the late '90s created both "Fist Of Fun" and "This Morning With Richard Not Judy". He seemed to disappear for a while before returning to national fame as the co-writer of "Jerry Springer The Opera" and will soon be recording the second series of "Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle".

I couldn't find anyone to go with me, however this was actually fortuitous. When I got around to booking tickets there were only single seats left which meant I could get one in the third row. I've been to the Leicester Square Theatre on a number of occasions, mainly for Richard Herring's AIOTM (aiotm!) as well as Herring's Hitler Moustache and The Collings and Herrin podcast live, so it was nice to see someone else here for a change, even if it was his ex comedy partner.

Lee arrived at 7.30 prompt and before he got on stage began berating the audience for being late, ordering them to sit down. He was using this current "Vegetable Stew" show to try out sets for his upcoming Comedy Vehicle series and was going to do 3 x 25 minute sets tonight.He is well known for giving his audience a hard time and making them work and tonight was no exception. He started slow. Very slow indeed. He pointed out that he knew that as it was Christmas that there would be some office parties in, probably booked by "Alan", an enthusiastic fan of his, while "Geoff" the boss and everyone else looked on bemused. He told the audience off for laughing at a joke he did about a single mother. "Do you think that was funny? I don't. I hate it. I've been told I could sell that joke to Tramadol Nights."

The first set was about moving to the countryside, and how awful the countryside is; the constant repetition of the words both frustrating and hypnotising the crowd. Most of this set was taken up with an imaginary phone call to an imaginary estate agent - hence the blog title: his friend who moved to the countryside had bragged about being able to see otters from the window - which turned into a conversation about how well or badly the gig was going, and that perhaps only a third of the people were enjoying it.The imaginary estate agent told Stew that he should have bailed out of the routine after the phrase "visible otters". This entire monologue went on for perhaps 15 minutes, with his back to the audience with the occasional sly look to see if more people were laughing.

The second set was about charity. Or, as Stew told us, it was to be about Adrian Chiles, but the BBC said this would have constituted a sustained attack, so he had to change the title. However this was still a sustained attack on Chiles before he moved on to Russell Howard, however without malice and extremely funny. This also focused on the amount of benefit gigs he does himself, which started as an estimate of 30-40 a year but by the end of the routine had slowly climbed to 80. This set was much more upbeat and climaxed with one of his trademark off stage off mic rants, shouting at someone moving about on the other side of the theatre when it was clear that if they "had ever seen anything ever" that this set was reaching a climax. Although Stew often claims that some sections of the room are quicker to react than others and tries to get the others up to speed I could see that tonight  it was certainly true. The guy sitting beside me looked terribly confused, disappointed, and possibly upset. I don't think he had been prepared by his friend who seemed to be having a whale of a time.

In the second half I decided to lean nonchalantly by the bar. I was being slightly annoyed by the grumpy guy beside me, and found myself standing beside the world's biggest Stewart Lee fan. Oh he was laughing alright. Laughing so hard at every line. Once he even slapped his thigh. However I liked him even though other nonchalant types were glaring at him.

Stew had given us a choice of topics for this final set: the difference between comedy now and comedy in the '80s or "some sort of political stuff about the government". The room was split, but my '80s comedy choice won, and Stew felt guilty that some of the audience would be disappointed and said he wished he hadn't given us a choice now: "This is why democracy can never work".

He sat on a stool for this set, clutching his guitar, explaining that having a guitar or a piano to use as a prop means that the audience would let him get away with substandard material and then explained the problems he has trying to get a gig at the O2 (I wonder who he could have been referring to?).

He explained that in the '80s all the comedians hated the Tories, and now all comedians hate their kitchen appliances before attempting to do a "Live At The Apollo" style routine about a toaster that either slightly warms the bread or burns it charcoal black. Naturally this went on for longer than you'd expect before explaining that the toaster was clearly broken and he should really take it back. he went on to remind us of the importance of keeping the receipt, although the staff in the shop shop he buys his electrical appliances from all know him so he might not need the receipt. "My observational comedy might not be very good, but at least you get excellent consumer advice." The show ended with a song on the guitar comprising of loads of very hack observational comedy lines which was rather pointed towards a rather popular current comedian. I'm not sure who, but the last two lines were "You're a liar. Your name is Michael..." but we never got to hear his surname.

I actually quite like Michael McIntyre (in small doses). I've said it now and it cannot be taken back. Deal with it. Though I do wish he's stop crowbarring accents into all his routines.

Great gig. It couldn't have been better. Maybe some more off stage off mic ranting but I'm just picking hairs. I grabbed a few pictures afterwards for this blog and on the spur of the moment bought his triple CD "What Would Judas Do?" which tells the story of the last week in Jesus' life from the point of view of this misunderstood disciple. I recommend it. You can get it from Go Faster Stripe as well as loads of other great DVDs from other very funny acts.

He finished his run on Saturday but has booked 5 more dates in the new year, so get tickets while you can. I'm up for it!

Oh I nearly forgot. One of my favourite lines of the night: "I hate Al Qaeda. I know its politically incorrect but I find them rude."

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Pleasant Surprise: Corporate Comedy Not Always Terrible.

So I am off to Highlight tonight with work colleagues for our Christmas party. This used to be a Jongleurs and is often spoken about with disdain by the comedians on the circuit that I tend to frequent. So when my boss announced that we were going there I looked as if I was pleased. I sort of was, but as she knows I'm a big comedy fan she wanted me to be pleased, so I did my best!

I started to worry about it. I have never been to a comedy show before when not everyone was a fan of the acts or comedy in general and have a few reservations.

First, not everyone will be that interested in the comedy. They are there for a night out with their colleagues, or perhaps there will be a rowdy stag or hen party with some idiots who think that heckling will be hilarious and will somehow add to the show, and that the acts will appreciate it.

Secondly, the doors open at 6 and there is plenty free beer available. (Well, for us anyway as our company is footing the bill.) This won't necessarily be condusive to paying attention later on. I was annoyed enough at the Richard Herring show on Wednesday whena table behind us quietly babbled amongst themselves during sets from Carl Donnelly and Eric Lampaert!

Then there is the fact that as a more corporate comedy club, will the acts have to broaden their material so that everyone gets it? Carl Donnelly said that this isn't necessarily the case and has seen Tony Law completely bamboozle the crowds with his unusual brain, and that the Highlight in Battersea can be extremely good.

Finally, will I know any of the acts and be hideously embarrassed by the drunken fools around me.

These are just my initial thoughts and I will continue the blog once I get back to compare my preconceptions with the reality. On that note, I'm off to trek through the snow and ice to Clapham Junction and if I get back without breaking a limb will continue the story.


I'm back!


You know what? It wasn't too bad! I didnt realise the venue was attached to a Walkabout so we met there and were treated to 10 free drinks tickets by our boss. Now it was tough getting through these but I managed it in the end.

Once we got up to the venue we took our seats. Looked like most people here were here as a company do. The compere was rather weak and , and the first act (didn't catch his name) was rather dire, with his rather dreary jokes about "Mussies".

It was fun when we told the compere that we worked for an adult chat line company and he didn't believe us. I think he got the wrong end of the stick, assuming we talked filth on the phone, but none of us put him right (apart from one of the shyer girls who made it clear she worked in admin!) He wanted a number to ring to prove we were telling him the truth and well done to my colleague who gave him the priciest 0906 number rather than the all too affordable 0871! Perhaps he spent too long with us, as I could see some of the other tables getting bored of the conversation.

Abandoman came on and pushed things up a gear. I had heard great things about them and when they asked us to find unusual things in our pockets and bags we held up ear plugs, asthma inhalers etc only for them to hold them in the air and build an improvised rap about them. Absolutely astounding. Go and see them when you can.. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone had huge smiles on their faces.

The headline act, Jeff Innocent was also a turn up for the books. Looking like an England football hooligan he took to the stage and explained that people don't believe he s a comedian and I can see why people think that. He does look intimidating on stage and only an idiot would heckle. And yes indeed, some of our party threw some drunken heckles out (that didn't make much sense) that were very ably and comically batted away by Innocent. I only had to ssshhh people on a couple of occasions!

Now out of all the people there it seems everyone was there courtesy of their work. There were 2 couples that had paid by themselves to come in, but I think £25 is not a price I'd be willing to pay if I was coughing it up myself. The night was fun, but overpriced if you are buying your own ticket.

All in all, not the most hideous night I expected!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Comedy Gold

The Old Queen's Head is a pub even closer to where I live than The New Red Lion Theatre. As a lazy comedy fan, it's probably the handiest venue to go to. I've been there once before when it was so packed I had to sit on the floor right at the front of the stage, craning my neck upwards to see the acts. My neck could barely see their chests, never mind their faces, so I spent most of the time looking at comedians' crotches. This was even more noticable when 9'2" comedian Steven Merchant turned up!

This time was different. the lovely Annelie had booked us a table (quite handily near the bar) where I was joined by the lovely Richard and Rob. Richard had completely forgotten about this gig even though I had told him yesterday about it, and did finally manage to turn up (even though the cash in his pocket amounted to a pound less than the entrance fee) and was allowed in to sponge the extra quid from Rob.

We did hear beforehand that Mark Steel couldn't make it as he was stuck in snow in Kent. This was a shame (especially for Mark) as he was the only comedian on the bill I hadn't experienced before, and I was very keen to see him , and I did plan to have a picture of himself and Herring together for this blog and refer to him as Andrew Collins throughout just to see if anyone would notice.

Carl Donnelly is a comedian I have seen before at Fat Tuesday, and more recently on Mock The Week and he was our compere for the night. His free flowing style suited this role and was happily engaging charmfully with the audience, which ended up with Aussie Top Trumps where he picked random categories to compare the 2 Aussies in the audience to find out which was best.

Eric Lampaert was the first act to perform. I had seen him before (with Rob) at a warm up for Richard Herring's "Christ On A Bike" show before Edinburgh, alongside Joel Dommett (who ended up naked... anyway that's beside the point...) and he had a real Eddie Izzard feel to him. Semi-improvised, and able to take ideas and run with them, pointing out his Edinburgh reviews comparing him to a shark and had the audience on side after a while. Well worth seeing. He did wonder later on Twitter if ending with new material was really a good idea!

However both Eric and Carl's sets were spoiled for me by the table at the back. Although the comedians' couldn't hear them, they were quite happily chatting amongst themselves. I glared a few times, and eventually as this continued into Eric's set had to ask them to keep the conversation down. I had assumed in my head that this would end up with a big unseemly argument, but they seemed to take it on board and I didn't notice them again. Hurrah!

(Oh Christ, I'm going to Highlight (ex-Jongleurs) on Friday. I just remembered. Although Carl did tell me in one of the intervals that they can be good nights. I'm still slightly concerned.

We then found out via Twitter (of course) that Richard Herring had been having travelling problems. Flat battery. I began to wonder if this gig was doomed. Thankfully he jumped in a cab and I didn't have to do his set as he suggested. Unfiortunately he will not be able to eat tonight. The taxi driver's family will do just fine however.

Sara Pascoe was on next. I saw her at All Day Edinburgh and although I enjoyed her set, there was something that didn't grab me. Don't get me wrong, she was good, but there were quite a few better acts on the bill. However tonight she nailed it. Absolutely storming set and I will 100% see her again.The mixture of strength and insecurity she showed was spot on and she won the crowd over easily.

Then Rob had to leave to go to work. I bullied him into apologising to Herring for walking out before he had even started his set. Just for my own amusement really! Sorry Rob.

The evening ended with Herring, and I'm not going to go into the details of the show here. I've done that enough in the past. However the place was loving him, and the regular routine, but now incorporating elements from Hitler Moustache and Christ On A Bike went down extremely well. The laughs were coming so often I couldn't hear the table at the back at all! He threw in an improvised section when a punter arrived upstairs with two pints in his hand who seemed about to step across the stage to go to a table,  speculating that he may be a new comic and debating what his catchphrase may be. Herring has a solid routine, but as he has said himself, it may be time now to write new material for it. Some of it has to stay, such as the "sky potato", "seven year old girl hands", and "signs for homosexuality at school" routines, but some could be trimmed a little. Perhaps use less of the childhood stories. However this doesn't mean dropping the "Men Of Phise" classic!

Incidentally, while Richard has been (jokingly) asking to be credited for sections of Andrew Collins' "Secret Dancing", maybe he should give credit to Andrew for writing the "Icarus Myth" line? In fact Andrew should insist on it!

Anyway, all in all, a fun fun night. 4 great acts. No filler. Comedy Gold is a great night. This along with Fat Tuesday, The Fortnight Club and Sunday Comedy at The New Red Lion Theatre makes me glad to be an Islingtonian.

(Still thinking about the Frankie Boyle travesty from last night. Should I end this blog on a rape joke?)

Frankie Boyle - This Charmless Man

I was working last night, so couldn't see the full glory Channel 4's Tuesday night comedy live, but read enough feedback on Twitter to know that it was going to be baaaad. I watched Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights quietly in my room last night as didn't want to disturb my landlord, but on rewatching it this morning realised it was much worse than I expected.

Ooooh that naughty Frankie ! I mean, that's what we EXPECT from Frankie Boyle! Shock. Outrage. Prepare to be offended. Why would you go to a Boyle gig or watch his show if you are easily offended?

In fact that's exactly the same argument I used when I defended him after the story of his Down's Syndrome 'joke' broke a few months ago when speaking to others about it  (including professional comedians, most of whom thought that Frankie had deeply misjudged his outburst)

'Offensive' comedy is fine. We all have the right to be offended and someone is always going to be offended by something. However, 'offensive' comedy is only acceptable if someone has the skill to make it funny. For example Billy Connolly, Bill Hicks, Stewart Lee, Brendon Burns, Joan Rivers, Russell Brand, Chris Morris: These guys can be seen as offensive. they push the boundaries, they have a point. But most of all, they have the intelligence and comedic skill to take difficult topics such as drugs, child abuse, suicide, 9/11, death, and other topics seen as potentially offensive and make them funny. They think hard about these routines. The joke is either on themselves or the powerful. They don't look down and laugh at people who are less fortunate.

Frankie Boyle doesn't push boundaries. He clumsily charges through them throwing ideas out without any sense of self-editing. It seems that his only goal is to be notorious, rather than to be funny.

Now his rape sketch (Green Mile parody) was SO hilarious everyone wasn't it? I mean surely its automatically funny when a prisoner rapes a prison officer then goes on to rape the governor's wife. Naturally she was scared to be raped at first, but obviously (because she is a woman, and he is a big black man with obviously more sexual power than her husband) she ended up really enjoying the raping.

Frankie, it's not good enough. Yes you managed to cause some ructions and upset a few people. But that's not my point. It just wasn't funny.

The Brokeback Mountain sketch: Now we know a lot of routines can lose any subtle nuances in print, but believe me, this sketch had none. Imagine a gruff, macho cowboy addressing the camera: He starts jovially, and as the sketch progresses gets more menacing.

"What is the meaning behind the bewitching smile from the famous painting that is tonight's particular episode. It is "pick an actor from the movie Brokeback Mountain that you want to fuck" and stick with it. Be it the rambunctious nature of Jake or the stoic poise of Heath or whatever floats your boat. Now which is it? Heath or Jake? On the count of 3 I want everybody at home to make their choice.

One, two three.

Well the overwhelming vibe Im getting is for Heath. I of course would have picked the woman who played Jake's wife you fags. I didn't say you had to pick Heath or Jake, I just said you had to pick an actor from the movie and suggested two of 'em. It was you who unconsciously knew this and still opted for the gay choice anyway. Apart from those of you watching who are actually homosexual, I'm sorry your Sky box fucked up recording "Glee" boys.

The rest of you fist fucking heath pickers, I'm sorry this is how you had to find out about above your love of cum. And I suspect many of you will mistakenly vent your anger towards me. Well bring it on. and if you want to take 2 minutes out of your confused life next week, I'll meet you down in Hampstead Heath in the toilet cubicle with all the disco music coming out of it. And I suggest you bring your life partner to the heath cause I'm gonna show you heavy, fatherfucker!"

(Is that the last line? If so I'm not sure even what it means...)

Now other than the obvious homophobia here, again, my main point is that I just can't find anything funny in this. Where is the joke? Can someone point it out?

Frankie Boyle is clearly turning into Bernard Manning, and without any sense of irony. I think it's time for a new wave of alternative comedy. Bring on the new Alexei Sayles, Rik Mayalls, Peter Richardsons, Frenches and Saunderses, and yes, even Ben Eltons (the good Ben Elton from the 80s, not the current evil Ben Elton),

I'd always enjoyed Frankie's interjections and short nibbles of cheeky fun on Mock The Week, but he just doesn't have enough good material to pull this show off.

Frankie, write some funny jokes. It can't be healthy simply relying on the laughter of nerves. How long is it till you're 40?