This was one of those comedy gigs where you had to be on the ball to buy the tickets as soon as they went on sale. We’d seen Jason Manford on TV before, mainly in “Show Me The Funny”, a failure of a series in that it wasn’t funny enough, but strangely compelling nevertheless. You saw these hopeful comics trying to break into the big time, only to be criticised savagely by the judges as one by one they were kicked out in the best Reality TV style. Many of the comics were actually very good, and Jason Manford acted as both host and “older brother” to the contestants, trying to be constructive with their acts and cushioning the flak when the comments got tough.
And that was very much Jason Manford that appeared on stage in First World Problems – decent, kind, supportive. It goes without saying that he is very funny; but he’s also very relaxed; you sense he’s very honest – you don’t feel he is putting on an act in any way, but that this is the real him; he’s strangely comforting, like an evening of comedy massage which you can just let wash all over you, so that you feel better for it, and will come out of the theatre refreshed. However there was nothing remotely challenging about his routine; there was never that edgy moment when you were laughing at something which you knew you shouldn’t; there was nothing dangerous, where you felt like he was propelling by the seat of his pants and we would land up in experimental country. It was safe. Even if the subject material was a little dicey from time to time, it still felt extremely safe. Later on, Mrs Chrisparkle and I realised that we found it hard to remember very much of his material. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable because it definitely was – but just not particularly memorable.
The act starts quietly with him strolling onto the stage with neither exciting build-up, nor pizzazzy music lighting; he’s just a bloke wandering up to the microphone stand to spend an evening with you. He opens with a great joke, when a guy in an interview is asked, what’s the worst thing about you; shan’t give you the punch line but it was a good crowd-pleaser. The rest of the first half is spent in entertaining chit-chat, good interaction with the audience, nothing too structured (as it seemed to me) – in fact Mrs C and I were reminded of when we saw Shappi Khorsandi, when her pre-interval stint was completely structureless, free-flowing, and totally devoid of real material, although, nevertheless, still entertaining. Mr M has more structure and more material than Miss K, but maybe not a lot more.
The First World Problems, a much loved twitter hashtag, that he refers to are those little things that go wrong that annoy the hell out of you at the time but are of trifling insignificance in reality. His prime example is a jolly good one, and one that sends you into the interval grimacing in sympathy. But during the break he asks the audience to come up with their own which we then discuss at the beginning of the second half. This was a very entertaining sequence, but I did wonder if he was simply getting the audience to write his material for him; no matter, his reactions to it worked well. Amongst the first world problems of the people of Northampton were the moment when you realise that you have run out of toilet roll and are not wearing socks either (try not to think too hard about that one); and that moment when you ruin a superb bacon butty by, instead of dolloping on some yummy tomato ketchup, what dribbles out of the sauce dispenser is reminiscent of precum. I do apologise if you were eating your dinner just now. Rest assured, the stomachs of 1200 people in the Derngate on Friday night all went vociferously queasy at that point.
Lots of good natured heckles got bandied about, which resulted in Mr M combining his Peppa Pig material with his amateur operatic skills to create Peppa Pig The Opera, which we all promised not to mention, but you can’t trust us Northampton audience. In fact, the moments when the deference between audience and performer broke down and he gave back as good as he got were among the funniest. He’s an amazingly successful live comic and his shows do book out well in advance, and he’s definitely worth catching. Great for a relaxing night’s comedy!