Monday, 6 July 2015

ARGComfest 2015

The cool kids
This is my 4th year in a row at this 4 year old festival, and it is getting bigger and better every year. From a one day festival at The Kings Cross Social Club in 2012, expanding to two days at the Camden Barfly in 2013, then at The Garage in Highbury last year, this year we were heading to Shoreditch Town Hall. They had also expanded to 3 rooms, which meant the choices of who to see were 3 times as hard.

I had made a list of who I was planning to see on both days, and I
didn't necessarily stick to it, and made a few decisions on the spot.
I met up with Neal outside Shoreditch Town Hall and we headed into the basement. At first it seemed a bit of a labyrinth. This never changed as I still got lost towards the end of the day. Though I did discover that the toilets on the 1st floor were by far the quietest. I didn't tell anyone this though, lest by doing so I spoiled it for us cool 1st floor kids.

Ed Aczel
So I saw 8 acts each day. I missed 16. Obviously I can't comment on them, but I have to assume my 16 were the best!

Ed Aczel opened the festival with his usual low key performance, now complete with extremely well shot video clips. What a lovely way to start the festival. Although Ed doesn't have any jokes to tell as such, his "anti-comedy" kept everyone happy throughout, though I'm not sure what the latecomers must have thought. Part of Ed's show is for us to ask him anything from a set of specific questions, such as "Why does Venus spin the wrong way?" and "Who did not win pipe smoker of the year?". I'm seeing Ed support Stewart Lee on Tuesday so must try and remember not to ask the same questions this time.

Stuart Goldsmith
We went upstairs to see Josh Widdecombe but it was so busy. I decided to head back downstairs. By all accounts Josh was fantastic, but it did seem like the Annexe room upstairs was by far the warmest. After this, I met Neal and we went to the front row of the Rivington Room for Stuart Goldsmith. Just before the show started I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Stuart. "You do know it's me on next don't you?" he said, bearing in mind I had seen him less than 18 hours earlier at the Betsy Trotwood. I did know it was him, but I had enjoyed him so much the night before, so why not? And, comedy geek that I am, it's fun to see the little changes that are made from one night to the next.

Rhys James
Caroline Mabey
We made our first visit to the Garden Studio to see the bonkers Caroline Mabey. This was another show I had seen before about Caroline's transition into motherhood. And no, it's not quite as nicey-nice as it sounds. She explored some very dark areas indeed, bearing in mind there was a pregnant woman in the row behind us.

Neal headed off to see the highly recommended Joseph Murpurgo and I stayed in the Garden Studio to catch Rhys James. When you hear older and more alternative comics talk about young comedians who have trendy haircuts and wear t-shirts and skinny jeans, Rhys's is the face you should see in your head. I had first come across him via Twitter (where he is great value. Follow him!) and seeing him do his stuff live is a treat. he is (as he said himself) pretty mainstream, but he knows how to write great, proper jokes.

Matthew Crosby
For me, the highlight of Saturday was Matthew Crosby. You'll know him from the sketch group Pappy's (whose Flatshare Slamdown podcasts are among the best around) and Badults. Again, Neal and I got a front row seat. The show was loosely based around Matthew's recent trip to Russia, and his apparent obsession with Vladimir Putin. He danced topless wearing a Putin mask for 2 minutes and 19 seconds, which, as he said, is much longer than you think. I ended up arm wrestling with "Putin" which I technically won, but Putin being Putin... What a great show. Go and see Matthew when you can.

Back upstairs to see Mike Wozniak. You'll know him, if not as a stand up, as Greg Davies' best friend in "Man Down". He told a long "shaggy cat" story about his "gruelling" drives from Exeter to Edinburgh after finding a cat in his car and deciding he needed to return it to his owners. this was interspersed with some facts chosen by us before going back to the cat.

Mike Wozniak
Phill Jupitus
The night ended with us going to see Phill Jupitus as Porky the Poet, this time sitting in taller chairs at the back, as of course, the show was almost full. Phill explained that now his TV pop quiz has been cancelled, this is all he has to fall back on. We got treated to a selection of his poems, culminating in Neal volunteering from the crowd, which involved standing beside Phill in a Star Wars storm trooper mask as Phill read poems about the movie. After this Phill recited a rhythmic poem about Blondie being both his first and last gig, where all the lines loosely rhymed with Jupitus. Great stuff!

Lazy Susan
By this time we were all tiring and it was time to head home, to prepare for arguably an even better line up on Sunday. After another big morning fry up I walked back to Shoreditch and got there at 1230. All the way there, and for most of the morning before I had been thinking "Bridget or Acaster? Bridget or Acaster?"  By the time I got there I was no nearer an answer. What a cruel clash. Anyway we reckoned that Ed Gamble would be in the packed hot room so we decided to stay downstairs for Lazy Susan. I'm never keen on seeing sketch groups I don't know, but they were fantastic. They really reminded me of classic French and Saunders. So
likable, with extremely well written material comprising of sketches that when put together told a story of 2 young boys who fell out and then made up again when they were grown up as well as a successful business woman and her two slightly less talented assistants.

Then it was time to head upstairs to see the often unpredictable Lou Sanders, with "Excuse Me, You're Sitting On My Penis Again" telling her story of trying to get a place at Eton School for Boys. A few people arrived halfway through and Lou quizzed them to try to find out which comedian's show they had decided to leave. One man didn't look like he was enjoying himself so Lou ended up cradling him on her knee for a while. I quite enjoyed watching the woman at the end of the front row who spent most of the gig with her hand over her mouth and her eyes wide open, as she had clearly seen nothing quite like this before! Lou spotted me in the audience and said "Oh do you remember when I was on Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast and the whole audience looked at me like I was mad?" And I did! Go and see Lou any time you get a chance guys!

Michael Legge
Neal and I bumped into Michael Legge as we were heading downstairs to see his show, and he told us that he had dumped his entire show this very morning and started to write a new one by hand. You might have thought this would have been a terrible idea, but Michael managed to write a whole lot of stuff on stage, including getting the entire audience to clap along to his improvised "It's Good to be Alive" song. Michael is a superb improviser who hates improv, and both of these facts really showed here.

Bridget Christie
My Acaster and Christie dilemma was solved,. I decided, just like that, to
stay on for Bridget and even though Acaster is a genius and never has a bad gig, I think I made a great decision. Bridget has yet another great show ahead of her, continuing on with her feminist themes, and this time is  exploring the issues of race and transgender issues as well.

Nish Kumar
I had another dilemma with Nish Kumar and Aisling Bea. I asked Misha who I passed on the stairs to make my decision and she tossed a coin inside her head and said "Nish". I found out that the Aisling Bea show was packed anyway so it was a good decision. I had seen Nish's show a couple of weeks ago and this show is pretty much ready to go. Normally I prefer my comedy to be a bit raw, and dare I say it, shambolic, but Nish has such a well written, and unashamedly intelligent show, packed with jokes. I shouldn't like it as it is so polished, but this is at least the second genuinely brilliant show in a row from Nish.

Ivo Graham
Eton School For Boys provided a running theme today as the young Ivo Graham took to the stage and spoke about whether he was a man or still a child. Lou ended up on the front row beside me (was she taking notes?!), and her laugh is always such a great sound! I've seen Ivo before, and like Nish before him, he is completely unapologetic, but this time about his poshness, though he does feel the need to make sure we know he voted Labour! (but then tops this with a great joke as to why).

Simon Munnery
Next was a choice between Mark Watson, Simon Munnery, and Bec Hill. I chose Munnery, and was so surprised to find a much smaller audience than i expected. His show is in the fairly early stages, and spent some time telling us about different ideas for show openings that he has. The one with the piece of rope tied to his ankle is my favourite. I won't say any more in case he uses it! He spoke manly about the absurdity of houses, and digressed into a story about visiting Substation (don't look for it; it's not there any more) to see if he was gay or not, and then quite a few slightly uncomfortable stories about the current state of his marriage. You can never really go wrong with Munnery, but you can be taken to very strange and unusual places.

To finish the festival I decided to go to Joke Thieves. What a great concept for a night. We had 4 comedians; Lou Sanders, Al Lubel, Jenny Collier and Paul F Taylor. A guy in the front row was asked to pair them up (so we knew it was the real deal and not worked out in advance). The comics all had to do 5 minutes or so of their own stuff, then after they had all done so, to swap sets.

Joke Thieves: Al, Lou, Jenny and Paul
Lou and Paul  were paired up and this was lots of fun, with Paul using new material hoping that Lou could workshop it for him, but for me watching Jenny do Al Lubel's set (wher he repeats his own name well over 100 times) and vice versa was brilliant. Al deciding to forego the material and speaking about Jenny's humble stage presence. After this I found out that Pappy's were on an interval so I headed through to see them, where by this time in the evening I was happy just to sit at the back and chill out,

So another great ARG. Big thanks to James Lowey and the team for all their hard work yet again, and roll on 2016!

What? you fancy finishing this blog with Pappy's doing a song about gloves? OK sure, let's do it!

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