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Archive for the tag “funny”

Spencer Jones is The Herbert in Proper Job

In the queue for Spencer Jones – with Richard Osman also waiting to get in – I couldn’t help thinking ‘please don’t sit in front of me’.  I was also thinking if the show’s good enough for Mr Osman… That coupled with the excited buzz being generated by the waiting audience gave me the feeling I was in for something special.

Please don’t think me a deliberate late-comer to the Spencer Jones party – I was all set to see The Herbert in Proper Job last year at The Hive but it was cancelled on the night I went due to technical problems. I’m getting my disclaimer in early because reviewing the show a year on from the awards and the rave reviews what’s there left to say? I could say Spencer Jones is the new Tommy Cooper with shades of Mr Bean – but that’s all been said already. Those comparisons are completely valid – the collection of daft props; the mastery of nonverbal communication. I’ll throw in a few other references if I may though – Max Wall (the outfit); Moe from The Three Stooges (the hair) and Frank Spencer (the storyline). The last one definitely as the Herbert man-child has to face up to family responsibilities and find a job (in a nuclear power plant so a bit like Homer Simpson?).

As I’ve demonstrated there – there’s nothing new under the sun. See any comedian and you can say ‘isn’t he/she a bit like… ?’ It can be downright plagiarism masquerading as a ‘tribute’ or it can be a lovingly crafted act informed by a deep love for what went before. Of course he/she could be in either camp and the audience could still be left cold. People like Tommy Cooper didn’t debut on telly as fully formed national-treasures. They worked the Variety circuit and faced the tough audiences who more often than not would respond with ‘What the hell is he meant to be doing?’ Cut to the pinnacle of a career and that same comedian can faff about and the audience will love it. It’s all about currency. So does Spencer Jones have comedy currency? Judging by the joyous reaction of the audience he’s well on the way to building up a healthy balance.

The show itself is unbridled silliness with Spencer displaying impeccable clowning technique. However there are vivid streaks of poignancy and almost macabre surrealism (due to the job at the power plant his baby is born with a the head of a fox) which makes you think you’ve wandered into experimental theatre as performed by an existentialist company from Chernobyl. The next minute we’re snapped out of the mood with a cheery ‘He’s my boy, I love him all the same’.

The big question is can Spencer take the Herbert to the mainstream? He’s already made it to the BBC in other guises and Harry Hill has proved that silly surrealism does get a chance on prime-time TV. The bigger question is however does Spencer want to take the Herbert to the mainstream? The show is very much a theatrical experience and so much would be lost in the confines of a TV studio with the audience possibly asking: ‘What the hell is he meant to be doing?’.

My guess is Spencer Jones is going to do very well – in whatever guise. Meaning that the Herbert may remain a rare live treat. That could be enough to prompt you to go along but you’d also get to see the work of a great natural clown and be imbued with the classic existentialist message of always looking on the bright side of life – however dark things get. More simply you will just have a great time.

(Review for 24 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/spencer-jones-is-the-herbert-in-proper-job

Helping Aamer

How can anyone not like a show where tea, coffee, biscuits and boiled eggs are on offer? Not only that but our host, motivational speaker and performer – Dr Mark Silcox – prepares the refreshments for us. Actually – scrub the word ‘performer’ because at no time does this feel like a performance.

Polite, softly-spoken, older Indian gentleman invites us into the cool downstairs room at Ciao Roma. On the one of two baking-hot days in Edinburgh this respite from the heat would have been enough to get the audience on his side. But there are also the aforementioned refreshments – too nice really! I have to admit I become a little obsessed with the practical concerns when bits of business like this are carried out. Are the eggs going to be properly cooked? Will there be enough water in the kettle to make tea for everyone? Where’s the milk kept? As a detail-obsessed person I’m getting the vibe our host is like that too – so we’re going to get along just fine.

In fact getting – or more accurately sending – ‘the vibe’ is a major part of the fifty minute experience. To explain – Mark Silcox’s mission during the time is to send love to the very angry ‘reverse-racist’ comedian Aamer Rahman with the hope of making him a little less angry. There’s a motivational-tool recording of Kipling’s If played at the start followed by compare and contrast biographies (his and Rahman’s) presented in an attempt to ascertain the reverse-racist’s anger source. There is also much scrutiny of Rahman’s Twitter account with ridiculous, pompous (and of course angry) tweets defused with perfect little put-downs which are a mix of naivety and sharp wit.

By this stage of the Fringe – actually at anytime – I get pretty fed-up with ‘comedy categorisation’. The idea of ‘well, I didn’t find it that funny or engaging but it’s meant to be anti-comedy so that’s alright’. What a lot of (Free) Fringe shows have to remember is most audiences will wander in just wanting to be entertained and engaged. If a show can deliver that – great. If it can inspire and actually make you feel good about yourself and the world for a while – even better. If it can be subtly done and make you suspend disbelief for the best part of an hour – that’s pretty special.

A lovely little gem of a show. (And by the way – the eggs were cooked to perfection!)

(Review for 24 Aug)

https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/615813-helping-aamer/

 

Joz Norris: Hello, Goodbye

Man in a box with only head visible inviting audience to come in and sit down. Now that’s what I call absurdist silly comedy.

What follows is a quick visual introduction to the man via family album photos spilling out of the box fax-machine like. The last one is of an elderly gent. The man breaks free of the box – changes his clothes with donations from the audience. A balloon with a drawn-on face and Princess Merida auburn wig takes the man’s place in the box. The elderly gent is the grandfather; the balloon is the girlfriend and the man is Joz Norris.

There is a story involving all three with much stopping and starting, false jeopardy and going off at tangents. The story itself is not so much shaggy dog but woolly mammoth and tangents include stopping off at the Beatrix Potter museum; allowing a tiny man hand-puppet to try stand-up and getting audience ideas for a – very structured – improvisation. But somewhere within all the mayhem there’s a fragile little tale of love and loss.

There’s quite a bit of absurdist silly comedy out there – especially on The Fringe – and if it’s done with a lack of conviction you’re going to be sussed. What joy then that Joz Norris seems like the real deal. Bags of energy with a madcap style reminiscent of a young Jim Carrey – his interplay with the audience is genuine and warm. In fact – you can almost feel everyone relax as we realise Joz is a nice guy whose main aim is to give us forty-five fun-packed minutes (many shows have the intention but can’t deliver).

By the end the fragile little story – more or less – is told and Joz hands back the borrowed shirt now covered in sweat. The owner could be keeping it as a souvenir in anticipation of Joz Norris making it big. Who knows? It could very well happen.

(Review for 21 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/joz-norris-hello-goodbye

Joz Norris: Hello, Goodbye

Desiree Burch: This is Evolution

I’m going to share with you a fantasy I had forgotten about until the other night. It’s fifties New York or maybe downtown Los Angeles. I slip into an exclusive little club and watch the latest hot-ticket doing this new hip happening called stand-up comedy. It could be Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor. All I know is I’m there and I’m loving it. I pretty much had that experience the other night. Did I take a time machine? No – all I did was go along to the Blundabus and saw Desiree Burch in her show This is Evolution.

I love the top deck of the Blundabus as a venue. It’s a wonderfully intimate space which lends the perfect atmosphere to performances that are all about confessions and being frank (the amazing Luca Cupani taking this to the Catholic confessional extreme in the very same venue). Of course wonderfully intimate can also mean totally embarrassing if the audience ain’t buying it. Glad to say the audience were all on board (I promised myself I wouldn’t use that pun… ) with Desiree’s set.

As a woman the themes – including macho cat-calling; being a fag-hag; the culture shock  quality of going out with an older man (‘waking up in a bed that’s not Ikea’); the pressure for women to shave ‘down there’  – resonated with me. But that’s not to say you have to be a women to appreciate the solid-gold material. Men in the audience were getting it and loving it too. There’s also stuff about being a black American women but Desiree never distances herself as if to say ‘you wouldn’t understand… ‘

Actually that’s the main big beautiful theme of the show – you don’t have to do what’s expected of you; you can be dealt a poor hand at birth but you can rise above it. Desiree speaks from experience – she’s spent a fortune on self-help guides. But instead of a tacked-on uplifting finale filched from one of those guides she does a very clever analogy about electrons behaving differently when they’re not being watched. If that sounds horribly scientific – go with it – it’s boldly and brilliantly original.

Okay, the material is great. But what really makes the show fly is the performance. Desiree has a marvelous physical presence which is both commanding and warm; and she uses the limited space to perfection – for example doing an uncanny impression of a trotting pony or thumping the roof of the bus to punctuate a point. Her delivery is rapid and assured leaving you exhilarated rather than exhausted.

I’m so glad I saw Desiree on the Blundabus but then I’d be glad to see her anywhere. This woman has talent and star quality to spare so intimate venues may soon be a thing of the past.Take the opportunity to see her this way while you can.

(Review for 18 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/desiree-burch-this-is-evolution

Desiree Burch: This is Evolution

 

Milo McCabe: The Unflappable Troy Hawke

For those who saw Milo McCabe‘s Genesisocide at last year’s Fringe you’ll know what to expect from the man. Excellent characterisation, a range of impeccable accents and a slightly bonkers story-line. Last year there was a lot of Back to the Future obsession on the Fringe and Milo did his own take as a would-be assassin travelling back in time to take out the schoolboy Phil Collins. It was breakneck funny with a big physical performance and a range of characters using up every inch of the Counting House big stage. Cut to this year and the more intimate surroundings of the City Cafe downstairs. There is only one main character – the unflappable Troy Hawke.

Troy Hawke is a distillation of every mustachioed matinee idol from Ronald Colman to Douglas Fairbanks (Errol Flynn is named as the preferred blueprint). But there’s also shades of the classic comedy cad (Terry Thomas to Leslie Phillips) with a purred catchphrase (‘oh, stop it’) punctuated with a saucy little shimmy. So far – so impeccable. So what’s the big bonkers twist? Well Troy Hawke isn’t actually a film star or any kind of star. He was home-schooled by his mother and fed on a diet of Errol Flynn movies (see above). He is what you might term ‘special’. Casting off the cotton wool chrysalis he goes on an eye-opening journey of Weatherspoons bars and encounters with bampots (his Scottish bampot/ned/radge voice is irreproachable).

The whole fish-out-of-water story-line is always a winner. There’s a little bit of it in most British situation comedy with social anxiety and getting it wrong (from Tony Hancock to David Brent). And when it’s opened up and the main protagonist is plunged into an alien landscape (as in Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg movies) it can be hilarious. And so it is with Troy Hawke, There are some marvelously funny lines and routines (the whole idea of Hawke becoming the ‘Weatherspoons’ Nutter’ after discovering ‘the wonderful place’ is inspired). Another essential element of this kind of situation is the hero becomes just that and triumphs at the end of the day. Does that happen here? Go and see!

I loved the show but if I was to have one teensy gripe I would cite the very end just before the bucket speech where Milo brings in a bit of political commentary. Now, I totally agree with his views (beware the Eton educated Tories) and they are delivered as Troy Hawke but for me it jarred a bit and broke the perfectly pitched spell he’d cast over the preceding forty-five minutes. A bit like Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator – maybe that was the intention!

All in all though – an excellent show.

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/milo-mccabe-the-unflappable-troy-hawke

Punel Show

There’s always going to be potential for a very diverse – and possibly sparse – audience when performers decide to slip in an extra show  when it’s meant to be their day off. The two extremes are: the super keen Twitter users only too glad to hot-foot it along to a Free Fringe hot-ticket and those who haven’t heard of the performers and have wandered in by chance.

Out of the seven audience members I think two of us were in the first category; two in the second; two open to debate and one was Darren Walsh’s mum-in-law. There was another couple at the start but they were definitely in the second category and made a hilariously inept phone-assisted escape when they decided after five minutes it wasn’t for them. (I’m not sure what they expected – the name of the show pretty much tells you everything you need to know. It’s a panel show with puns)

Also did they not know they were in the company of punning royalty with Darren Walsh and Mark Simmons as hosts? Those of us who know and appreciate their work (and use Twitter) were a bit stunned by this point. Great comedy, packed houses so far in the run, seven people in the audience today – really? I think the hosts were stunned as well but they were far too professional to call off or give us a stripped back show. I can’t be sure what happens on other days but I can’t imagine having any more fun than we did.

I don’t know if it’s a bit silly to try and describe the set-up of an essentially silly show but here goes. Darren and Mark are team captains each with one panel member in the shape of a guest comedian. On the day there was Fraser Geesin (quite grumpy but I think that’s his comedy persona) and the excellent and completely bonkers  Trevor Feelgood (I believe he’s a resident panel member so that’s a treat on its own). There are rehearsed puns, there are ad-libbed puns and much general silliness. The fun and games extends to the whole audience but as we were seven this was probably inevitable. It was a bit like being at the best family get-together – if you’re lucky enough to have some top-notch comedians in your family.

Of course it will be different each day and you may have to fight to get in. But I’m sure you’ll have a gloriously fun time – I know the seven of us did!

(Review for 16 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/punel-show

 

 

Luke Benson’s Big Night Out (In the Afternoon)

I usually make it a rule not to go and see people I’ve seen before at the Fringe – however good they were. I broke that rule big-time the other day when I had my Super Tuesday of seeing five shows all featuring tried and trusted performers. I know that sounds a bit like faint praise or the equivalent of slipping on a pair of comfy shoes but sometimes you just want impeccable entertainment and guaranteed good times – don’t you?

It was a couple of years ago when I first saw Luke Benson at the Fringe. And out of the stacks of comedians I’ve seen before or since he was definitely in the handful people  I expected to see on the telly at some point. Then I thought – am I the comedian here? If your only access to comedy is through the medium of TV (and for a lot of people it is) you could be forgiven for thinking there’s only a few big names who are capable of dishing out the laughs. Of course that’s not true. But they may have put in years of hard slog playing to tough crowds and learning their craft. Again, probably – increasingly – not true.It’s criminally tragic how certain comedians don’t get seen by a wider audience. And Luke Benson is one of those certain few.

Luke has played the tough gigs and tales of which were included in the show I first saw him in (Luke Benson Makes Something of Himself). This time round the main theme is alcohol. The beautiful thing about Luke’s material is it’s never one note. There’s no simply – isn’t drink great? – and have I got some drunken escapades for you…  He touches on how drink can change us – for good and bad – but he never abandons the laughs to start on anything remotely resembling a lecture. Luke’s far too good for that. Instead he weaves the personal and the thoughtful in and out of the fantastically funny material which includes stuff about Geordie nights out, awkward family relations and his giant-of-a dad’s propensity for keeping little dogs.

So we’ve got great material brilliantly performed. Is there anything else? Well, Luke seems like a genuinely nice guy and his style is very much like your funniest mate but without the pushed-onto-a-stage-shambles of a performance. He’s stand-up professionalism to his fingertips and knows how to work – and look after – an audience. Maybe he’s too nice to be trampeling over other comedians or has too much self respect to climb the greasy pole and ‘make it big’ but all that aside – if you want fifty or so minutes of guaranteed laughs, good times and a nice little glow that lasts for a while afterwards get yourself along to the Banshee Labyrinth at 16.20.

(Review for 16 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/luke-benson-s-big-night-out-in-the-afternoon

 

 

 

Cook It How You Like, It’s Still a Potato!

There are an awful lot of people (and a lot of awful people) doing comedy at the Fringe. When you’ve seen a few you may feel tempted to ask them – ‘who told you you’re funny?’ I get the feeling with Romina Puma people will have been saying to her for years ‘look, love – you’re hilarious – get on that stage!’

I caught Romina’s show – Not disabled, enough! – last year and had such a brilliant time I definitely had to catch her again this year. The noon start was a bit of a big ask for me (think how she feels!) and I imagine for the rest of the audience as well. Therein lies a potential problem but it’s a problem that afflicts the vast majority of Fringe performers who find themselves doing a night-time show during a daytime slot. An audience with very little alcohol and a whole lot of inhibitions can be a very tough gig.

The inhibitions thing is a big deal when it comes to Romina’s material. She deals with subjects some people may be uncomfortable with – sex, disability, the two together. And even if the audience are okay with the themes – that next step of actually laughing out loud might just be too much for them.

Another thing they may have an issue with is the use of language – PC or otherwise. That could be a problem with Romina’s show this year as it’s all about that. The title comes from an Italian proverb and features in a set-piece comparing and contrasting Italian (obsessed with food) and English (a bit mundane). More potentially controversial is the quiz about PC and non-PC words used around disability.

Actually the only way I would use the word controversial when talking about Romina Puma would be if someone said: ‘this woman isn’t funny’. With her beautifully physical knockabout style – which in many ways harks back to classic Hollywood screwball – Romina is one funny lady. End of controversy!

(Review for 17 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/cook-it-how-you-like-it-s-still-a-potato

Bob Blackman’s Tray 2

What can I say about Bob Blackman’s Tray that I haven’t said already? Furthermore how can I convince you to go and along and see them?

As ever the guys are keeping well below the radar of the thundering Fringe PR machine that propels and destroys performers in unequal measure. There are no posters, there are no flyers. The promotional pic is a silver-coloured paper plate. Of course if anyone wanted to explore further they could Google Bob Blackman and find out all about northern humour. They could then go along and see Bob Blackman’s Tray, get some more references (Charlie Drake, Roger de Courcey, Bernie Clifton) and maybe do some more research. Then they’d realise that BBT is a brilliant distillation of old time Variety shows, working-men’s clubs and classic kids’ telly. I guarantee they would laugh themselves silly as well.

The terms surreal, absurdist, anti-comedy are always bandied around during the Fringe. A lot of times it’s shorthand for ‘not funny, but we’ve got a degree and have studied Lecoq in Paris’ or some such poncy crap. Bob Blackman’s Tray can’t be doing with any of that. True – it is surreal in the way that the host of characters (played by the two guys) appear and disappear before our very eyes like apparitions from a past where times were tough and we laughed at daft things. Daft, silly, uncultured? I’ll tell you what’s uncultured – all the bland nonsense that clogs up the TV channels and rinses The Fringe of any originality. Sorry – rant over. (If you want to see a classic rant look no further than BBT’s Trevor Never still campaigning for winter in-door bowling facilities in the Kirklees area)

The bottom line is – would Bob Blackman’s Tray be something you’d like? Well – I’ve seen them a few times now and audiences have been young and old; people knowing what to expect and people who didn’t have a clue beforehand; various nationalities. We all have something in common now – we’ve all had the Bob Blackman’s Tray experience and we’ll never be the same again.

Wonderful, nostalgic, truly original and very, very funny. Get the experience.

(Review for 16 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bob-blackman-s-tray

Previously on Maff Brown

It’s very satisfying when you go to a Fringe show and you don’t have to do any of the work. No ‘what’s your name?’ ‘where are you from?’ ‘what’s your opinion on.. ?’ Instead you can just sit back and be entertained. That’s how it is with Maff Brown. Of course there’s the general ‘where’s everyone from?’ at the start and he does enlist the help of a couple of guys in the front row later on in the proceedings. But we’re never in any doubt that Maff is in charge.

Maff is a seasoned professional and one of a growing number of comedians who used to do the paid Pleasance-type gigs but now prefer the Free Fringe. Good move as the Cabaret Voltaire big room was packed out with a very appreciative audience when I went along on a Sunday lunch-time.

There’s a rapid succession of one-liners with a lot of the material veering towards the laddish (he does have a recommendation from GQ). And he warns and worries that things may get a bit dark but honestly there’s nothing majorly offensive unless you get offended by jokes about Rolf Harris and how self-pleasuring becomes a chore when you’re a man in your forties (that seemed to mystify the young lads sitting along from me).

The whole ‘appropriate for the time-slot’ thing is always going to be an issue during the Fringe.But Maff addresses this in true cheeky chappie style noting ‘that’s one for the evening show’ as he rattles through his repertoire. Some of it’s cheesy, some of it’s a bit dodgy but most of it is very very funny.

(Review for 7 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/previously-on-maff-brown

 

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