Something very strange was happening at the Screaming Blue Murder comedy night last Friday. For some reason, the atmosphere was really flat. We had a reasonably good-sized audience; regular host Dan Evans was on excellent form; it wasn’t even as though we had a bunch of tee-totallers in with unlubricated chuckle muscles. There was just something lacking. Maybe we all got spooked by the fact that the majority of the front row were police officers. I’m sure they were off duty; and I know for a fact they like a laugh as much as anyone. But I could already tell before Dan did his microphone stand audience response swingometer routine that it was going to be tough going to get much of a response.
We’d seen all three acts before, but I remembered them as all being very good so I hoped that the audience would still react well to them. The quiet atmosphere sadly didn’t suit our first act, James Dowdeswell, who we’ve seen twice before and had gone down a storm both times. He was our headline act on both those occasions and maybe his material works better a little later on in the evening. He still delivered his canny, witty observations with his usual quiet aplomb but they just didn’t make an impact. Plenty to smile at, but not many guffaws. Nevertheless, James gamely carried on to polite applause at the end.
When we came to our second act, Diane Spencer, whom we’d seen back in 2011, I feared the worst. The audience still seemed relatively unresponsive and she started off with a knob gag which bombed; and her surprise at its failure was very obvious. But then she did a very clever thing. She went straight for the clean material, and it started to work. She’d uncovered the fact that, as it seemed to me, the audience was a bunch of prudes. It was only when she’d won our attention and respect with her DIY routine and her stuff about gingers that everything else fell into place. She was really funny, and by the time we got to the end of her act she’d properly loosened up our inhibitions and shown us that it was perfectly acceptable to laugh at carpet burns during sex material. It must have felt like hard work for her at times, but it really paid dividends. We all went into the second interval as much happier bunnies.
We’d also seen our final act, Earl Okin, before, and by the time he came on we were ready for some big laughs. Mr Okin’s persona of being an unlikely sex symbol, together with the relaxed pace of his act of musical parody, hit our assembled funnybones like an accurately struck reflex hammer. I could imagine on some other nights that something more in-your-face and wise-cracking might have been what the people want, but for us weird bunch his subtle, teasing act was just perfect. It takes a lot of confidence to reduce a room to tears of laughter by creating jazz instrument sound effects, but he does it!
Next Screaming Blue in two weeks – here’s hoping for a more “normal” crowd!