60 comedians in 60 minutes sounds like a potentially ridiculous format for a gig, and if you thought that you’d be absolutely right. However somebody cooked the concept up, and there’s clearly plenty of talent keen to get involved because when I went to Comedy Rush at the Shaftesbury Theatre it was the second night in the series. Apparently revisiting an Edinburgh Fringe concept from 2001, the gargantuan lineup for each night was only hinted at with a few key names – it makes sense really, given the vagaries of the comedy booking landscape. And as they only had 60 seconds each to deliver their piece, stature and circuit seniority didn’t necessarily guarantee excellence – but the overall effect was an lightning-paced ripper of a night.
MC Rob Rouse delayed proceedings to begin with by getting caught up in traffic on the way in, prompting the theatre manager – a velvet-jacketed old West End luvvie type – to come out and apologise to the punters for the wait (something he probably never had to do while Flashdance was in residence there). Most people didn’t seem to mind too much however, and it have me a little extra time to take in the appointments of the building which I’d first seen on grainy VHS as the venue for the Comic Relief video from 1986 (with the biggest assembly of UK comedic talent I’d ever seen, back at the tender age of 12 or 13).
Rouse did a serviceable job of warming the crowd up with some material about parenthood and babies: he seemed a fairly safe observational type, although had a way with words that showed echoes of a much lesser Daniel Kitson. At least he was inoffensive, and in a compere that’s a positive boon (as I’d learned from past awful nights held together by Dave Johns or Hardeep Singh-Kohli). And it wasn’t long before we were away.
(before we get too far into it, there was no programme and each act was only announced once, so there’s a great chance that the names of half of these will be misspelled or just plain wrong)
It wasn’t looking great, as 4 Poofs And A Piano kicked off with a hybrid version of Bohemian Rhapsody and a peaen to bum sex, followed by Ellis Jameson getting off on a slow start to an obervational piece about living in Wales. The manic Phil Nichol tipped the mood with a sustained 1 minute of cheering for Ellis Jameson, the Shaftesbury Theatre, Comedy Rush, some guy in the front row, and for the next act on – Nathan Caton. The towering Caton took stage and delivered a piece about kids and prostitutes, and then passed over to Pat Monahan, who discussed how there’s a lot more hugging up North.
About this point in the gig it struck me that nearly every one of the 6 acts on had commenced with variations on “Hello, Shaftesbury Theatre, how are you?”, and it occurred to me that if we were going to be asked 60 times how we were it would a) grow tired very rapidly and b) probably not change remarkably in response (getting irritated notwithstanding).
Greg Goldstein asked us how we were, made some banter and then launched into his uncanny Louis Armstrong impression. Pete Dobbing dispensed with jokes and instead mounted a straight-ladder one step at a time with Sexual Healing blaring out in the background. Zoe Lyons made an excellent point about ugg boots, before Julio Simpson came out & said something about being in Afghanistan.
(you wonder if some of these notes were worth writing, really – but, after all, the acts were good enough to perform for a minute…)
Michael Legge dwelt on the incredulity of playing the Shaftesbury Theatre (a recurring theme for the evening) before getting off on to a nice angry rant about Joseph & His Technicolour Dreamcoat. The Trap took stage and delivered a faultless 1 minute song called “I Never Knew” (and marked themselves out as a group I should check out soon), and were followed by Tom Price (who asked us how we were) and his set-let about beach weddings & Gollum. Dougie Dunlop delivered a laid-back piece about age, but was quickly forgotten as a chap whose name I didn’t catch delivered a song about schizophrenia whilst accompanied by a miniature singing “Henry” vacuum cleaner.
There was definitely no shortage of random at this gig.
The ever-lovely Tiffany Stevenson acquitted herself tidily with her bit about body image, before another of my favourite events of the night – the entropic Paul Foot announced that he wasn’t Paul Foot, but a police inspector investigating a murder in the theatre, and that he intended to question each and every audience-member until the mystery was solved. Seb Fletcher tried to channel Lee Evans with a mime of playing drums to a track, however it was as interesting as watching people lipsync songs on YouTube. Stuart Goldsmith held up the “established circuit comics” end of the table with a piece about his 3 favourite practical jokes, and couldn’t be followed by Ginger & Black – the “almost” musical storytellers, whose electronic piano problems exposed the mercilessness of the 1-minute format. Although once they got going I didn’t find them very amusing, so 1 minute was perfect.
Next, my notes say “Joel Gobits” and “Bathroom questions”. I’ve no recollection of this whatsoever, but he did ask us how we were. Adam Bloom fared better with some stuff on swearing followed by his 4 topical jokes. Gareth Jones charged on stage wrapped head-to-toe in clingfilm and executed a fairly bewildering escape act. Adrian Poynton managed a neat idea about God playing Guess Who using tombstones. MC Rah came on draped in a Jamaican flag and shouted some unintelligible crap: Was it satire? Was it a character piece? No idea. Was it tedious? Oh yes. Amazing how he managed to bore everyone in under a minute.
Rachel Parris meekly pushed out a piano-backed song about vomiting during your first kiss, and then Ronnie Barker lookalike John Moloney opened with a line about having been mistaken for a lesbian, and then was unable to get any further material out for the remaining 45 seconds because we were all laughing and clapping so much. Lofty deep-voiced Tom Crane talked of his previous experience in choirs, before singing Jingle Bells at us in Spanish.
While I pondered whether the night would degenerate into people demonstrating their party tricks, David O’Bam(?) mimed a hybrid of ballet and boogie dancing, and Guy Pussey (??!) played saxophone to us as we eagerly leant forward for the eventually non-arriving punchline – not a comic, just a sax player. Well-played, organisers. Carey Marx prompted me to write “Very Tasteful Indeed”, followed by the mostly harmless Ricky Grover claiming that he hadn’t been booked – he just saw a queue snaking out of the stage door. Seymour Mace attempted to hilariously stuff as many marshmallows in his mouth as possible but the audience saw through this and reacted with indifference.
At this point where I realise I’ve hit the 1100 word mark, the idea of writing this “quick” post seems to have proven ill-advised, but we’ve come this far, and only just reached the intermission. And, much to the bewilderment/chagrin of the drinks-hungry punters, the interval too was 1 minute long.
The Evel Knievel Stunt Spectacular took stage as people filtered back in – riding back & forth across the stage on a tiny motorcycle whilst the stunt coordinator set up the requisite ramp, toy buses, and fireworks. Excellent stuff. Variety lives. Peoh Hudson (??) adopted an Emo Phillips-like cadence to tell us about his time living in Dubai, then the wonderful Isy Suttie gave us the “Brit Awards down a well” treatment, which I didn’t feel worked as well in isolation. Les Ball brought the gig into the realm of slapstick mime – thankfully only for a minute – and was followed by Ian Smith waxing fantastic about cats doing jury service.
Gruesome magicians Barry & Stuart subverted the artform using cheesewire and a polo mint and about 5 litres of blood, leaving Rob Deering and his loop box to pave the way for beardy outsider Stephen Carlin to deliver some of his Christmas material. Alan Francis toyed with the non-sequitur of an eloquent tramp. Josh Widdecombe, who asked us how we were, must have done something along the theme of “Loved & Lost” but I’ve no idea what it was, but what was memorable was The Amazing Mrawa (??) – hula hoop artiste extraordinaire. Actually her tricks didn’t really go very far, but an energetic lady not wearing much made remarkable contrast to the parade of low-energy males, so she was well-received.
Jacob Edwards underlined how nervous he was about the gig, but left us with the new acronym “FMILF”. McNeil & Pamphlion sang a clever meta-song about comedic song structure: I was a bit preoccupied trying to figure out where I’d seen one of them before. Holly Bird (?) seemed to serve no purpose other than to give the “women aren’t funny” brigade a piece of ammunition, as she moved through the audience squawking about I don’t care what and forcefeeding some of us bananas and crisps.
The Scott Brothers gave a Hollywood Gossip report based on the brief flight of fancy that everyone there had second jobs in DIY/trade. MC Rob Rouse took the stage to do a minute of his own material on the idea of him looking like a Geography teacher, but not before he’d asked us how we were. The vinyl-clad & bulbous Miss Behave injected some uncertainty into the room before threading her tongue-piercing with a long-stemmed rose and making it twirl about. James Redmond didn’t make enough of a lasting impression on me to recall what the note “paedo texts” might mean, but Scott Capurro lived up to the reputation I’d heard with his material on gay stereotypes in Abu Dhabi.
Geriatric Lady Agatha trundled to centre stage with her walking frame and loudly announced “I’VE GOT NO COLON!” before using her remaining 30 seconds to walk the rest of the way across the stage. Will Andrews’ set revolved around facial distortion. A group called The Neuroscientists (3 kids and maybe their dad?) demonstrated an optical illusion using rotating shapes – not comedy per se, but by this time the gig really had a feel of “let’s get in anyone who has a 1 minute act”. Matt Kirshen talked about reindeer. What about them? I’ve no recollection at all.
The high point of the evening for me, it confuses me to say, was Frank Sanazi – to date the best, and only, Adolf Hitler-themed Frank Sinatra impersonator I’ve ever seen. After enquiring of the audience by show of hands who had seen him before and who hadn’t he transitioned seamlessly into Sieg Heil With Me, and left me wondering whether I’ll ever tire of cheesy one-joke cover acts. Seemingly not.
Katy Brand performed a mediocre character piece about an overbearing female army recruiter, then in the biggest surprise (to me, at least) of the night, the normally bulletproof Andrew Maxwell delivered a one-joke idea about going to a Cockney Mosque, then spending the rest of his time revelling in the fact he was playing the Shaftesbury Theatre. Colin Hoult was impressive with a character piece based on an FAQ about a bloke called Mike who referred to himself in the third person, and Charlie Baker continued the vaudevillian party tricks by doing a couple of jokes and launching into a tap dancing routine.
If it’s possible to have a headline act in a format that only allows the performers 1 minute, the broadcasting of catchphrase “To me! To you! To me! To you!” signalled the arrival of the Chuckle Brothers, which seemed to please the audience greatly – I don’t recall their material being amazing, but it didn’t really seem to matter in this instance as they glided on pure nostalgia value (and possibly got just over a minute allocated as a concession).
The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra finished the gig – Martin White conducting somehow whilst playing the accordion, and then played us out of the auditorium as the marathon-weary crowd shuffled towards the exits.
A truly bizarre evening, and though not one that I’d recommend on a regular basis, as a once (or, in this case, twice)-off it was excellent, and I would say that I enjoyed it more (certainly more consistently) than the Channel 4 Comedy Gala last year. If there had been tickets available for the first night in the series, it would have been very intriguing to see how the more mainstream headline acts there handled the format (Rufus Hound, Robin Ince, Brendon Burns, Lucy Porter, Simon Munnery).