This is the second year that a bunch of us have come up to Leicester for the last weekend of the Comedy Festival. So it’s not quite yet a tradition – but I could see how it could easily become one. Mrs Chrisparkle and I played host to the great and the good of the family – Lord and Lady Prosecco, Professor and Mrs Plum, Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters. We scheduled five shows for Saturday, two for the Sunday, with the promise of an early release on Sunday afternoon if we behaved ourselves. Let’s take them one by one.
It’s me Kat Bond come home now, so cold (A Work-In-Progress), Heroes @ The Criterion, 1pm, 24th February
Our first show of Saturday was to see Kat Bond do a work-in-progress show entitled It’s Me Kat Bond come home now, so cold. What would that title suggest to you, gentle reader? Something Kate Bush-related? Wuthering from a great height, perhaps? But no. Instead we find ourselves welcomed into an unexpected therapy session, where Ms Bond dispensed brief snippets of helpful advice where angels would otherwise definitely fear to tread. Ms Bond was new to Mrs C and me; although I knew she had a successful show in Edinburgh last year involving toilet paper. That show seemed to divide the critics, which is probably a good thing. After I’d booked the tickets I discovered The Scotsman had given her this damning review: “Some comics have a gift for spinning gold from meaningless nonsense. Kat Bond isn’t one of them.”
Well, I have to say, The Scotsman simply got it wrong. Ms Bond is a naturally funny person right down to her fingertips and this was an extremely inventive 45 minutes. Plenty of audience participation, and it doesn’t matter where you sit – hide in the back row, she’ll still get you. Among the highlights within our party were Mrs C providing percussion, the Countess being mimicked, the Professor having his problems attributed to a baby milk fetish, and Lord Prosecco being asked to fashion a work of art out of a piece of squidgy stuff that covered his hands with red gunk which took ages to remove – Ms Bond might have to work on that particular prop. We laughed the entire time – right from the opening moments where the audience give her the nouns that create her character’s backstory, to her rolling around on a parachute (and yes it was a small stage) and her final assessment of how our therapy session had worked (or not). Very enjoyable, and a name definitely worth watching out for.
Diane Spencer 2018 Collection, The Cookie, 3.30pm, 24th February
Our next show was to see someone that Mrs C and I have seen twice before and enjoyed very much both times – Diane Spencer. The last time we bumped into her, she was handing out flyers in Edinburgh. I apologised that we wouldn’t be able to see her show that time round, but that we’d seen her before in Screaming Blue Murder shows in Northampton and really enjoyed her gigs. And you’ve never seen someone beam with such gratitude in your life. Maybe she doesn’t often get good reviews?
This time she’s giving us her 2018 Collection, as though she were some fashion designer with an exclusive catwalk show. And why not? But you wouldn’t describe it as an haute couture collection, more a mass of neuroses involving all walks of her life. She’s now married (whoop), to Kevin, who doesn’t (yet) drink but has married into a family of alcoholics so that’s the designated driver sorted. Ms Spencer gives us the lowdown on their first Christmas together – spent at her parents – with loads of comic observations about dealing with families, saying the wrong thing, plus fainting in the bathroom, accusing a child of autism and the joys of MDMA (which I always thought was a decent alternative to plasterboard).
Personally, I could watch her for hours. She has a wonderfully posh goofy persona which she uses to great shock advantage when she occasionally drops some really filthy nuggets of comedy. She is supremely confident on the stage and you never for one moment fear that anything will go wrong. And even when it does, her quick wit and mental database of filler material comes into play so perfectly that any tangents are just as funny as her planned material. I’m guessing this was a work-in-progress show, but you wouldn’t know as she’s such a proficient practitioner of the art of stand up.
Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre – the new show, Kayal Upstairs, 6.50pm, 24th February
We walked to the Kayal Restaurant for a fabulous Indian meal (highly recommended) which also happened to be the venue (well, their upstairs room) for the next show. I’ve seen the listings for the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre every time we’ve been to Edinburgh but for some reason it’s never quite tempted me in. But on Saturday, the time and the place were right to take a punt on some puppetry madness. In the past they’ve performed Socks Do Shakespeare, Socks in Space, Minging Detectives and other delights, but the title for this year’s show was revealed on the night to be… well we never quite worked out what the title was, but it was definitely based on Super Heroes.
When you walk into the room to watch their show, a little puppet theatre has already been set up on the podium and it looks for all the world as though you’re going to see an end of the pier traditional Punch and Judy show. But whereas Punch and Judy has a number of characters, who all feel the terminal wrath of Mr Punch, the Sock Puppet theatre has just two characters, who take turns to assume various disguises throughout the show – and, inventive though they may be, they’re fooling nobody.
They’ve clearly built up a cult following, many of whom were in the audience and loved every minute. For my own part, I really enjoyed the opening sequence and getting to know the rather bitchy and petulant characters behind the sock puppets, but after a while it began to pall. The show is absolutely packed with material, but it’s all delivered in that same falsetto voice; and an hour of that was too much for me. I wasn’t the only member of our party to nod off – in fact I think there was about a 50% snooze factor. I wanted to like this much more than I did because it’s such an inventive concept, and a huge amount of work has gone into it. But I’m afraid it didn’t do it for me.
Darren Walsh: Massive Punt, Peter Pizzeria – Violin Room, 8.30pm, 24th February
I’ve seen Darren Walsh a couple of times before, guesting on other people’s shows and he’s always tickled my fancy with his relentless stream of puns and his ability to make up a joke out of any subject shouted out from the audience. No wonder he won the Best Joke of the Edinburgh Fringe award in 2015. In this latest show, the both self-deprecatingly and vainly titled Massive Punt, he constructs another series of puns of all genres. Elaborate, inventive, cringeworthy, puerile; he’s totally cornered the market.
The structure of the show is that he’s an airline captain taking us on a tour of the world, and for every country, there’s a pun. In addition to this, he has a range of visual and pictorial gags, some comedy Twitter responses, and plenty of audience participation, so if you sit in the front row, please do be prepared to play along – a few of the front row on Saturday night clearly saw it as their challenge to upstage Mr W which didn’t really help the show bounce along.
The show relies on a huge amount of pre-prepared material – including (apparently) flying to several countries to film just a tiny comedy snippet – and it’s vital that the timing of his interaction with the images on the projection screen is spot-on. Fortunately it is, so that works very well. It’s all very silly, but all very clever and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Mr W always comes across as a really likeable guy, which gives you the confidence to wince at the winceable jokes safe in the knowledge he’s unlikely to get his own back on you – just expect another teeth-grating pun to be volleyed your way. I get the feeling he just likes to see our reactions, whether or not we find them funny! Very enjoyable – it’s like one long party trick and he’s the host who’s always got one more gag up his sleeve.
Late Night Jokes On Us, Manhattan 34 – Downstairs Bar, 11pm, 24th February
We popped back to the hotel for a glass of wine before seven of us braved the last show of the evening – Lady Prosecco wandered off, muttering something about Match of the Day and Pinot Grigio. Once you’re back in the hotel it’s easy to feel all comfy and cosy – it was a very cold day on Saturday – but kudos to those hardy souls who braved the icy blast of the five minute walk to the Manhattan 34 bar for a Late Night Jokes On Us show. It’s one of those free to get in, but not to get out, variety compilation nights where a host (in this case Alex Hylton) introduces other acts from around the festival for an hour of unpredictable, unplanned and thoroughly badly behaved comedy.
I don’t think any of us had any great expectations of this show – but how wrong we were! We were all crammed into the second row from the front, and with an average age of (I think) 63, Mr Hylton decided to call us Age UK on a Day Trip, which we have now adopted as our Facebook Group name. When he asked us how we knew each other, the Countess offered up the fact that we were all family members together with assorted wives. Mr Hylton just heard “Saucy wives” so for the rest of the evening (and maybe for the rest of their lives) the Countess was Saucy Wife No 1 and Mrs C was Saucy Wife No 2. I must say Mr H was a brilliant compere and we’d love to see him do more of his own act sometime soon.
We had five acts doing roughly ten minutes each, starting off with the excellent Mickey Sharma, whom we saw at an Upfront Comedy night last year. I think Mr Sharma was a little tired and emotional, having just done his own show, and, alarmed at the prospect of performing to many of the same audience again, had to think on his feet for new material. However, we did love his routine about traffic in India, including the two motorcyclists transporting a wardrobe. Totally stupid; and if you’ve seen Indian traffic, totally believable.
Next up was Dan Nicholas; new to us, and with a thoroughly silly but funny style to him. He encouraged audience participation simply by waving his hands about – it’s actually funnier than it sounds. Then he got Front Row Mike to do the same – and it took a while before he got the drift, but then he cracked it. I don’t know if I’d had one too many by then, but my other memory of his act is his getting the entire audience to sing a simple song, just containing the word “Mike”. A thoroughly inventive and curious performer, I really enjoyed his session!
Then we had Alex Black – again (and indeed like everyone else on the rest of the bill) new to us, but what a talent! Excellent, creative material, that really had us in hysterics. Armed with a ukelele, he did some Police/Smiths mashups, and who knew how well the Smiths and George Formby worked together? You’ll never hear Leaning on a Lamppost in the same way ever again.
Next up was Rob Coleman, a slightly more mature gentleman with manic hair and a gruff and grumpy expression. He trades on his eccentric looks – he’s a bit like a comic Einstein – and much of his material is based on the difference between how he looks and how irresistible he is to women. However, the women in our group found him strangely resistible; talk of his small willy didn’t help his cause and for some reason his ten minutes didn’t quite work for us.
Our last act of the show, and of the day, was Friz Frizzle, self-described Song Ruiner, and he was absolutely hilarious. Happily plinky-plonking on his Bontempi, he gives new lyrics to well known songs – frequently surprising you with a perfectly punning title, just when your brain is racing against his, to get to the title first. But there are all sorts of ways in which you can ruin a song and he’s an absolute master of the art. I loved his versions of Chic’s Le Freak, Prince’s Purple Rain, and OMC’s How Bizarre, which Front Row Craig really didn’t understand; I’m still not sure he did, even after Mr Frizzle had repeated the punchline at least twenty times to him. His George Formby material is brilliant; but you’d have to go a long way to get a better comedy song than his paean to Rolf Harris to the tune of A Town Called Malice. Sadly I was the wrong age to get the joke of the song that he performed at the end of his routine – rather enfuriatingly all the younger people were singing along to it, grrrr. But it was a fantastic end to a hugely entertaining show that we all loved.
And that was it for one long day. It was now time to troop back to the hotel and sleep the deep sleep of the innocent. My intentions of getting a kebab and a few pints on the way came to nothing.
Kwame Asante: Work in Progress, Kayal Upstairs, 2pm, 25th February
After a lavish breakfast and a little retail therapy, we returned to the Kayal Upstairs for their Sunday afternoon programme. First up was Kwame Asante with a Work in Progress show. Mr Asante (or should I say Dr) has been juggling the balls of being both a stand-up comic and a Junior Doctor for a few years now and frankly I’ve no idea how he finds the time to do both. I’d heard about this chap a few times but never seen him, so thought it was about time we saw what he was all about.
He has a very different style from all the other comics that we saw that weekend; he’s very sincere, very gentle, very eager to please, and keen not to mislead or disappoint. He said from the start that his new show would be about him and his childhood and particularly in relation to how he was obese as a youngster and young man; and exploring the effects that it had on him. No fat-shaming, no cruelty. We’ve seen a few comics over the years who use their comedy as a method of therapy, and I think Dr A might come under that heading. However, to be honest, I thought it would have more material about his overweight years than it actually did; the majority was simply about his life as a doctor.
He had a few great routines, about how he feels when he loses a patient, the strange ways in which he encounters racism, the lies spun to him by his grandma in Ghana, and an enjoyable sequence about the worst things geriatric patients have said to him. His performance split our group; some felt he came over as so vulnerable, that they found him more sad than funny. True, he does have a vulnerability to him, but I simply thought that was an interesting insight into how he handles his two jobs. He’s not a wham bam thank you man kind of comic, his is more a slow burning story-telling style which I really enjoyed. This was the very first preview of his new show, so unsurprisingly it will need quite a bit of shaping up, but that’s what WIP is all about!
Alfie Moore: ‘It’s a Fair Cop’ Work in Progress, Kayal Upstairs, 3.20pm, 25th February
We’ve been looking forward to this final show of the weekend because we saw Alfie Moore at one of the Screaming Blue Murder shows in Northampton many years ago and he was absolutely brilliant. If you ever wondered how much comedy material you could get out of policing… well it’s a lot! He now has his Radio 4 programmes, of which several of our party are fans – I confess I haven’t heard them – and this work in progress show was structured to go through the first draft of a script for one of these shows, to see what should stay and what should go.
The subject of this particular show was a hard-hitter: sexual misconduct. As the audience, and the equivalent to the studio audience during the recording of the radio show, we were required to participate in a “judge and jury” style, giving our instinctive reaction to whether a crime had been committed, whether the perpetrator should be arrested, and so on. It was actually a really fascinating experience from a crime perspective, let alone any comedy! But, as Alfie Moore was in charge, he made it extremely funny. He gave us some great incidental material, including the amazing story of the gentleman who decided to make love to a car exhaust, and the legality (or otherwise) of being a foot fetishist and working in a shoe shop.
I love Mr Moore’s delivery style; it’s unpredictably both brash and subtle, and he’s another of these incredibly quick-witted performers, who can drop a killer punchline, sotto voce, when you’re not expecting it. His unique knowledge of the police force gives him a truly special place in the current comedy circuit and you know he’ll always startle you with his insights and experience.
We could have stayed for more comedy, but I heard the siren call of the A5199. We all enjoyed a really rewarding and, moreover, funny weekend, and I can’t wait for next year’s return visit!