The last 2 nights have seen me at a couple of comedy sessions – as usual, a testimony to my alertness & awareness… I was mainly looking for an opportunity to see Daniel Kitson without having to trek out into the middle of nowhere, and both gigs turned out to be multi-comic showcases of which Kitson was but a small part. Thankfully, both nights were excellent – one was a fundraiser for mental health charity MIND, and the other was a new club night at Proud Gallery, “The Invisible Dot Club”: the themes of which were Love, God, and Evolution.
As I’m pressed a bit for time I thought I’d summarise the comics in alphabetical order:
- Arthur Smith – normally an old(er)-school one-liner & absurdist, tonight he read a passage from his memoirs – specifically concerned with growing up living next to a bomb site during WWII and learning of the fragility of life. Quite well-expressed, and quite amusing, but I’m not sure it was altogether well-positioned in this set.
- Charlie Baker – West Country Jack Black lookalike Baker was the compere of the MIND gig, and a top job he did of it too… a compere’s job is a tricky one, for keeping the audience warmed up is difficult amid a blotchy field, but in the case of this gig he had to push hard to match the quality of the acts he was bookending.
- Daniel Kitson – prosaic demigod Kitson (I’m never gonna refer to him as a god, am I – I’m an atheist, and his ego doesn’t really need the stroking) was the only common feature of both nights, working on the same routine about ordinarily socially unacceptable utterances being commonplace but causing grief when taken out of context. Ironically, his set on Monday night commenced with him getting involved in a tussle with a bloke who had used his mobile phone to film the first part of the gig: much of which, if taken out of context and in isolation, would probably earn him the exact type of public backlash to which his set referred. Obviously work in progress, but even then he had the room totally on his side as he raced through the unfinished half of the routine in bullet point format. I’m a bit biased when it comes to Kitson, but presently my favourite things are his newfound fondness for dishing out the epithet “dickbag”, and for beginning his gig at Proud Gallery by saying “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to carry on with doing a gig in here – I get the impression that ordinarily this is the sort of place that’s just packed full of c**ts”, with what I think was a wry smile playing across his beard.
- James Sherwood – very clever grammatical deconstructions of song lyrics and a couple of really sharply crafted puns; would definitely go see him again. Didn’t have the audience absolutely dying with laughter, but then he was the first one on after the compere.
- Kevin Eldon – comic actor who turns up everywhere (except at the Orangutan benefit gig I was hoping to see him perform at last year), in character as globally conscious and socially aware poet Paul Hamilton. I found myself quite transfixed by Eldon’s characterisation, as the character seemed three-dimensional enough to offer some depth and yet stereotype-based enough to give us laughter due to a sense of familiarity when he did something we could identify with. I suppose the stark contrast is the sort of characterisation offered by people like Al Murray, who announce exactly where they’re going before the show even starts. Eldon/Hamilton made me lost my bundle completely after announcing he was getting a real vibe of positivity and love from the audience, and was going to involve us in a poetic art happening, before collecting the names of a type of animal (aardvark), a subatomic particle (muon), a cheese (green cheese), a canal (Grand Union), and an abstract concept (ambivalence). Then after a moment’s thought he returned to the microphone and said “No, that’s impossible”.
- Paul Sinha – gay Bengali quiz enthusiast & former GP Paul Sinha embarked on a tidy set about prejudices, preconceptions and sporting commentators (it wasn’t the commentators who had the prejudices and preconceptions, to be clear – that was thick-necked suited thugs in South Norwood). He won me over quite convincingly, as much for his comedy as his commitment to being interested in quizzes despite the mounting evidence that he’s no good at them. He’s getting better.
- Pippa Evans – in character as country & western singer and borderline psychopath Loretta Maine, she came across as fairly combative and necessarily obnoxious. She hit her rhythm in the latter part of the set with a pretty good song written in a more or less bipolar manner. She can definitely sing, I’ll give her that!
- Simon Munnery – compere of the 2nd night, Munnery’s stuff was serviceable but didn’t blow me away. Again, probably more a reflection on being surrounded by excellent comedians. Some of his stuff fell a bit short of the mark – the surreal piece about having a co-presenter for the gig who was a punctured inflatable kangaroo with the face of Richard Dawkins stuck on it seemed to have a lot of the audience either confused or just not amused (although I think I maintained a healthy & enthusiastic giggle throughout). Perhaps it was timing – I remember getting a little restless when he announced he was reading a poem, when we’d already had Kevin Eldon’s excellent poetry, Tim Minchin’s sublime beat poem, Arthur Smith finishing with a poem, and Tim Key the extremely surrealist poet further down the bill.
- Stuart Goldsmith – Goldsmith’s got quite a youthful face, which kind of made me leap to similar conclusions to him as I did about Russell Howard: i.e. that he must be quite young & therefore new at this comedy lark. Also, like Russell Howard, he seemed adept at couching his material in such a way that it seemed far more innocent than it actually was. He was exceptional though – he did a tremendously fun piece about posh dogs (catalysed by overhearing a very posh man who had named his dog Martin). Bonus points as well for dropping Daniel Kitson right in it: Goldsmith came out wearing the charity’s t-shirt, and said that it was important to provide visibility for the charity, and show that support in the form of wearing the shirt and getting exposure for the name, and that all the other comics should do the same. He then added, “If Daniel Kitson comes out on stage and isn’t wearing the shirt, it’s because he thinks the mentally disabled are all pricks!”… to which Kitson shouts from the wings “THAT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL PRICKS!”. (Kitson later took the stage wearing a plain cardigan, which he shed to reveal the charity t-shirt, which turned out to be 8 layers of charity t-shirts which he shed continuously throughout his set in a weird sort of amelodic dance of 7 veils.
- Tim Key – I’d seen surrealist poet Tim Key before once but he’s either dramatically improved or his poetry was massively augmented by having Tim Minchin noodling around on the keyboard to provide texture (and trying incredibly hard not to piss himself with laughter too much). Key recited a few short poems on each of the gig’s 3 cornerstones (Love, God and Evolution), finishing up with a trilogy of works entitled “A List Of Animals I Could Fit Into”, “A List Of Animals I Could Almost Fit Into”, and finally “A List Of Animals I Could Not Fit Into”. I seem to recall his poem on the topic of Love being short but excellent, and to try to describe it would more than likely result in more words than the 2 sentences it actually comprised of, and even then wouldn’t be nearly as well expressed.
- Tim Minchin – Tim pulled out a couple of pieces from his current tour: an interesting idea on ecclesiastical hypocrisy in the form of a guitar-based singalong (clever idea but never seems to really take off), and then following up with his absolute masterpiece, the 9 minute beat poem about dinner party ideological conflict with an egocentric hippy, entitled Storm. I think I’ve seen Minchin perform this live 4 times now, and listened to the recording about another 80 times, and it still strikes me as absolute brilliance.
- Wil Hodgson – solid set from the pink-mohawked tattooed winner of the if.commedies “Best Newcomer Act”, although as the piece largely hinged around the socialogical lynchpin of the behaviour of skinheads I suspect he lost the crowd a little. He seemed a little nervous, as if to make himself more reliant on being a human non-sequitur, like by being a skinhead and coming from quite a hard environment and at the same time saying that his passion was collecting Care Bears and My Little Ponies.
All excellent comics though – I’d happily go see all of them again. Not 100% sold on Proud Gallery as a comedy venue (at one point I think I expressed concern to Hannah that the excess moisture in the air due to the packed punters perspiring might be detrimental to the photographs being exhibited), but if you were to compare the two evenings the first one would get the points anyway because a nice lady bought me a glass of red wine to say thankyou for getting the barman’s attention for her during the great gladiatorial hustle of intermission.