Review – Comedy Crate Festival, Northampton, 9th July 2017

Comedy CrateI was idly thumbing through Facebook the other day and saw, as you do, that a friend was interested in a local event: The first ever Comedy Crate Festival in Northampton, thirty acts over two days in three venues: The Lab, The Charles Bradlaugh and The Black Prince. How fantastic, and innovative, to create such an event where comics can take a slot for work in progress towards their Edinburgh shows in a month’s time. We’d already booked to see Miss Saigon on the Saturday, but that left the Sunday free… £16 for a wristband allowing you access to see five shows seemed a bargain, although £27 for two days works out at just £2.70 a show if you see everything you can, which is, indeed, top value.

First, some feedback about the venues – we saw two shows at the Bradlaugh, two at the Black Prince and one at the Lab. The Charles Bradlaugh has an excellent upstairs room capable of accommodating a big crowd for a comedy gig; it’s comfortable, has a well-stocked bar, and excellent sightlines; my only criticism would be that it can get too hot, but that’s a common problem in well attended comedy venues! The Lab is a much smaller venue with a nice intimate feel, but the hard chairs are, well, ouch! The bar is rather poorly stocked and when the barmen natter to each other during the show, the noise interrupts the act (just a friendly piece of advice for the future!) The quirky Black Prince was probably my favourite; a medium sized venue with an array of different types of seating from hard chairs to sofa, to stools, so you can take your pick for comfort. It also has a lovely garden for pre- or post-show drinkies.

Each venue had five shows a day, all at the same time, so you basically have a choice of three shows for each comedy slot. We’re lucky enough to see quite a bit of comedy so we’d already seen a number of the acts on show; and I thought, in best Fringe tradition, that it would be a good opportunity to catch some acts we didn’t know. That meant no to Stephen Bailey, Larry Dean, Geoff Norcott and Ed Byrne (and from Saturday’s line up, we would have missed Stuart Goldsmith, Pippa Evans and James Acaster. Didn’t they have some good names?!) So I made my choices in advance, and very nearly stuck to them. Let’s take them one by one.

Tom Toal (3pm Charles Bradlaugh)

Tom ToalWell this is where it gets difficult. Tom Toal’s Edinburgh show is Better Than Before, a rather intricate narrative show about following your dreams. It’s extremely clever, but, after a very welcoming and enjoyable first few minutes, including one great joke, I can’t say that either of us found the rest of it particularly funny. There’s a big setup for a significant callback which relies on the audience recognising, or not recognising, the name of an apparently infamous figure in history. Neither of us knew who this person was, and as a result we felt that we had totally misunderstood the punchline of a long joke. Disheartened, it made us feel a bit stupid, took us out of comedy-mode, and as a result the routine never regained traction with us. Mr T is clearly a likeable guy but this really needed to be a lot funnier than it was. Hey ho, there’s still time, that’s why you have work-in-progress try outs!

Ian Smith (4.30pm Black Prince)

Ian SmithIan Smith seems to have a quiet, unassuming personality, until he lets loose on a flight of fancy, and he’s off like a racehorse! A naturally very funny man, with a great understanding of those bizarre things people do, with which he then confronts you, so you absolutely recognise yourself in his comic scenarios. His Edinburgh show is called Snowflake, and is all about uniqueness – and how it is that we’re all unique yet we’re all the same. Over-running by fifteen minutes (with subsequent knock-on effects for the next show!) he has way too much material, but what to cut out? Because it was all brilliant. Reflections of Tromso including marvellous mental images of shitting huskies, (he found out we’d been there, so at least I added a little something to his act); words that don’t translate into English, but really ought to; googling people with your own name; and getting dismissed via the medium of poetry. The show was frequently interrupted by people wandering in and just standing alongside the stage and Mr Smith did a brilliant job of weaving them into his routine. Extremely funny and I would definitely recommend catching his show.

Jack Barry (6pm The Lab)

Jack BarryWith Stephen Bailey in one venue and Larry Dean in another, I guess Jack Barry was always going to be the least attended gig in this slot – and indeed, there were just seven of us in the audience. Sometimes it happens. But that’s an opportunity for the comic to draw on their resources and keep going, ensuring those seven have a good time – and that’s exactly what Jack Barry did. His Edinburgh show is High Treason, a comedy lecture about the benefits of legalising drugs. This is always going to be something that divides an audience, but Mr Barry does a very good job of keeping everyone onside, and actually he comes up with some clever (and funny) arguments to support his case. He has a very engaging style and a confident, fluid delivery and I thought he was extremely good. I hope his show gets a much better turnout in Edinburgh, because it certainly deserves it!

Ed Gamble (7.30pm Charles Bradlaugh)

Ed GambleWe had originally planned to see Glenn Wool in this slot at the Black Prince, but for some reason got sidetracked by the prospect of crisps and alcohol at the Bradlaugh as we were walking by. I’d only seen Ed Gamble on TV before so he still counted as “one we hadn’t seen on stage before”. A huge crowd obviously had the same idea, and by the time we’d gone upstairs to find somewhere to sit, our only option was standing at the bar. Still that did give us an excellent view of the stage, and also the opportunity to observe a very serious looking Mr Gamble prowling around the back of the room like an anxious cat, waiting for his moment to pounce on the stage. Once on, he presents a really slick and confident act, absolutely jam-packed full of laughter. Much of the material stems from his running a marathon – including the natural show-offishness that it engenders – and a really funny, if essentially simple, routine on holding in a fart whilst being massaged. There are some wonderful flight of fancy moments, such as treating a tethered priest as if it were a family pet (you had to be there) or how the boys at his posh school would have talked to each other. And there’s a brilliant explanation of how you can tell you’re in a spa. He was cheekily challenged by a guy at the front and I thought his subsequent put down erred on the cruel, so beware of sitting in the front row! But he’s naturally a brilliant comic and this was probably the show during which I laughed the most. Maybe, ever so slightly, a little safe? He’s not one of those comics who will examine a serious situation in an attempt to change the world through the medium of observational humour and surprise revelations. He’s far more likely to make fun of a burp. But he does it so very, very well. His Edinburgh show is called Mammoth and I predict a riot.

Phil Nichol (9pm Black Prince)

Phil NicholIt’s interesting to arrive early at a venue when the comic is still setting up and if he doesn’t mind having a chat with you whilst he’s getting ready. Phil Nichol is one such chap. You can tell right away that he’s a perfectionist, and you suspect that if the show goes wrong he’s really going to beat himself up about it. He looks down at his notes for the show, sighs, makes a few comments about how it’s all designed to find out what works and what doesn’t, looks at his notes again, sighs, and looks at you as if to say, “please don’t hurt me, I’m a lovely puppy.” He has no need to worry. His Edinburgh show, Your Wrong, deliberately, I’m sure, spelt grammatically incorrectly, talks about making mistakes, but primarily gives Mr Nichol a chance to rail against the world with all the power invested in him by his hard-hitting, energetic, excitable style. Much of the material stems from his relationship with his family, where he gives us a vivid and hilarious picture of being brought up in a Brethren household – praise God and pass the butter – and the account of the tragedy that befell his beloved older brother. En route, you get an insight into how Anne Robinson refused to be upstaged by him, and a new explanation for why the chicken crossed the road. “Some people say I should slow down my words a little”, he confessed, shortly before the show began. They’re probably right. But what you come away with is an impression of a man possessed by passion, desperate to drive home his points, and creating a comedy craftwork that both satisfies your desire to laugh and juxtaposes personal tragedy in the context of humour. It really makes you think, and it really makes you laugh. I loved it, and I’m sure it’s going to be an Edinburgh smash.

And that was our day! What a great day it was. Huge congratulations to the organisers and I hope we can all do it again next summer!

Review – Upfront Comedy – Comedy Summerslam, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 2nd June 2017

Upfront ComedyA brand new venture for us – going to see the comedy show promoted by Upfront Comedy, in the Royal Theatre. I know they’ve visited a couple of times in the past, and I thought, shall I? shan’t I? and I didn’t. More fool me, because Mrs Chrisparkle and I enjoyed two and a half hours of consistently fantastic comedy from some amazing purveyors of the comic commodity!

John SimmitIt’s hosted by John Simmit, who’s done many great things but the only question anyone asks him about is “What’s it like playing Dipsy?” He has a very funny routine about being offered the job – and talks about the success of the Teletubbies show with deserved pride. He’s a very welcoming host and if he has a specialist subject, it would be comedy dancing, taking us all back to our childhoods. He noted that we were a “mixed” audience; not something I’d particularly thought about but he felt it might bring its own challenges as the night wore on – I hope those challenges were all good ones. I also loved his observations about the other show on at the Royal and Derngate that night – That’ll Be The Day (Lord and Lady Prosecco were in attendance) – and how the foyers were full of 75-year-olds with Elvis quiffs.

Mickey SharmaOur first act was Mickey Sharma; in fact, his was the name on the line-up that swung it for me, as I’d read about him in Edinburgh and he was on our long list for last year’s shows; but didn’t quite make it to the short list. What a funny man! Moreover, what an extraordinary voice he has. Mrs C was sent into a blissful cocoon of velvety warmth and kept on going on about his timbre, whatever that is. I do hope he makes a lot of money from voiceovers.

There is something slightly challenging, slightly edgy about his stage persona; he’s not just your usual chap down the pub like the other comics in this line-up. He’s more thoughtful, more calculating; and that makes for a great routine as you can never predict where he’s going to go next. I loved his explanation of his first name, and how it fits in with the rest of his family; his slightly awkward relationship with his wife – particularly when she asks him about trying a threesome; and his explorations of sexy dancing are hilarious. Late arrival Nick tried to upstage him; foolish boy. Mr Sharma certainly knows how to handle the heckles. We both thought he was brilliant and would definitely see him again.

Aurie StylaOur next act, and billed as “internet viral sensation” (so why haven’t I heard of him?), was Aurie Styla. Funny name – sounds like a small but vital element of an old hi-fi system. But he’s a funny guy; no doubt about it, he comes out on stage, grabs us by the metaphysical throat and doesn’t let go for the full half hour. He has brilliant material about his strict family upbringing in comparison with the wimpy weakness of today’s parents; his characterisation of his mum “dealing” with him is fantastic. He tells us all about his horrendous trip to Jamaica – and I think I’ve changed my mind about wanting to go there. There was a wonderful faux pas laugh from one of the young ladies in front of us when Mr Styla said Baa Baa Black Sheep was all about the slave trade. When she realised what she’d done the poor girl was mortified. Mr S is a really likeable guy and we really enjoyed his set. I met him in the interval and bought one of his DVDs for £5. He had an offer of two for £10 but I declined his generosity.

Maureen YoungerAfter the aforementioned interval, our next act was Maureen Younger. She’s the only one on the bill whom we’d seen before, at Screaming Blue Murder in the Underground next door four years ago. She’s another really naturally funny person, with plenty of self-deprecating material about her size (formidable) and her preference for the physical over the cerebral. She has a lot of funny things to say about race and sex, in all its shapes and sizes, and she fits into this format like a glove. She gears quite a lot of her material towards the women in the audience – and the women in our audience really appreciated it!

Curtis WalkerOur final act was Curtis Walker; I’ve heard of him, but never seen him; no, we never watched The Real McCoy, sorry. However, it was clear that everyone else in the audience had not only heard of him but adored him – the wave of warmth to greet him was palpable! I’ve no doubt that Mr Walker had a wealth of material up his sleeve but all he had to do was bounce off the audience – and he was hysterical. He met Jermaine, in the front row – and gave us a great visual reminder of why he would have been given that name; he met Lisa, the kick boxer with the older husband (I mean, no! father) (embarrassing, what?) He explained why he was called Curtis – it was his mother’s maiden name. Shortly afterwards, upstaging Nick piped up with the question, was he named after Tony Curtis…? NO! We all said, and Nick got a little shirty after that. Mr W has a warm, natural, but quite mischievous stage presence and he absolutely Upfront-bannerheld us in the palm of his hand.

A sensational night of comedy; we both thought it was outstanding value for money and all the performers were on superbly top form. I hope it’s not long till the next one!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 26th May 2017

Screaming Blue MurderI’ve seen a full house for a Screaming Blue Murder before but this was as full as the legendary pack of sardines! Extra rows and not a spare seat to be had for love nor money. This was the last of this season’s Screaming Blues so everyone obviously needed to be supercharged with comedy to keep us healthy for the dry months ahead.

Dan EvansOur host was Dan Evans, as usual, who had a job keeping certain members of the audience in hand, including the rather posh sounding Charlotte and her husband Richard who came in with some killer blow punchlines that even Dan had to admire. I think as it was the last show of the season, Dan decided to abandon all suggestion of new material and spoil us all with his Greatest Hits – I even got an apology for his doing so! Rest assured, they worked perfectly on the night.

Otiz CannelloniWe’d seen all three acts before but that wasn’t a problem with a line-up of this calibre. First up was Otiz Cannelloni; I’m surprised he doesn’t say he’s full of beans, so I’ll say it for him. (Or is that cannellini?) He’s a naturally hilarious guy – starting with nonsensical one-liners to get you going, then moving into interactions with the audience: “I don’t believe in first impressions… you sir, you might not be a twat”. He’s great at dishing out the general wisecracks, never going too deep into an observation because he’s funniest at the shallow end, if you get my swimming pool analogy. And I loved the idea of milfos. This is all blended in with some cunning magic; Simon, the front row lifeguard, had to choose a card and, although he came too soon with the fact that it was the Queen of Hearts, Mr Cannelloni had already secreted it separately about his person. A brilliant way to start the show.

Amy HowerskaNext was Amy Howerska, whom we’d seen here a year ago but who also co-hosted Spank! in Edinburgh the first time we went. She’s a brilliant blend of Polish, Irish and Jewish, with a mission to make everyone laugh – she finally cracked the miserable guy on the front row in the last few minutes. She’s happy to get down and dirty – with her material at least – and I enjoyed her advice on Brazilians, her impersonation of her Auntie Babs and what it’s like to be an Irish sperm. Great attack, constantly spinning off the audience – which she does so well, and she went down a storm.

Pierre HollinsOur final act of the night was Pierre Hollins; if you looked at a police identity parade and were asked which one’s called Pierre, he’d be the last you’d pick; and if you were asked which one was guilty, he’d probably be the first. He has a larger than life blokey personality, full of great comic observations and ending his act with a couple of comedy songs. Had everyone in hysterics from the start to the finish. Always a winner, always one to look forward to again.

Alas, no more Screaming Blue Murders until the autumn! What will we do?

Review – Tez Ilyas, Made in Britain, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 20th May 2017

Made in BritainWe have a specific spot we like to sit for the comedy shows at the Underground, gentle reader. They normally have two banks of chairs – three or four rows at the front, then a gap, then the seats at the back. I like to take the back row of the front bank – and sit on the aisle – that way you’re close enough to the action to feel involved but sufficiently far away not to get roped in. Usually. Imagine my disappointment on entering the Underground for Saturday night’s Tez Ilyas show to discover the front bank of chairs was just one row deep. A front row glistening in glamorous isolation. No chance. We instinctively sat on the front row of the back seats. No one sat in front of us.

Enter Mr Ilyas for his welcoming introduction. I knew what he was going to say. Our seating positions as a group were not acceptable. He said he’d turn his back and count from 1 – 10 in Urdu and when he turned around he expected everyone to have moved one row forward. He did so. And so did we! It was a very nice start to our audience/performer relationship: he delivered, we responded. One thing though – it meant we were catapulted to the front row. Dang my breeches!

Tez-Test-Card-We saw Tez when he did Screaming Blue Murder here last October, when he mistook Northampton for Peterborough (ouch!) and then slagged off our cricket team (double ouch!!) – and it’s fascinating to discover that he remembered those schoolboy errors, as though they keep coming back like a nightmare. I reckon Mr I probably keeps a collection of his faux pas in a box under the stairs and takes them out every so often for a happy reminisce – he strikes me as that kind of guy.

But that’s probably at the heart of why his stand-up is so endearing. He comes across as just a regular guy; no airs or graces, no persona he’s hiding behind – just the real him and as a result you feel as though you really understand him and his life after an hour and a half in his presence. Most other comedians I’ve seen and enjoyed weave imaginary material into their real-life experience to create a funnier version of the truth. But you get the feeling that absolutely everything Mr I says is the truth, and nothing but. Even if it isn’t, and he’s pulling the wool over our eyes, that’s a real gift.

TezI use the word “welcoming” in the second paragraph in two ways; first, it was a general welcome as we’d just arrived, none of us had met and he was being polite and offering the comic equivalent of canapes and cocktails. (No cocktails; alcohol has never passed his lips. Well, almost never…) But his style is also welcoming; he doesn’t ever make you feel uncomfortable, even when he’s talking directly to you (who’s my MP? What am I drinking? What’s my favourite Disney film? Where do I rank ISIS on the scale of despicability? I confessed all) You imagine at home he’d be the most gracious host. He seems genuinely chuffed that we came out to see him.

guz-khanAfter he’d got us at our ease – and we’d played musical chairs – he introduced us to his support act, the fantastic Guz Khan. We’d seen Mr Khan with Johnny Vegas at the Leicester Comedy Festival earlier in the year and he’s a revelation. An ex-teacher, you know with that commanding presence the kids would have sat up and listened (well, I would have). He has brilliant material harking back to his school teaching days; but also really clever edgy observations such as the surprise use for a WhatsApp group and also his unconditional love for all his children. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were genuinely delighted when we realised he was coming on, and he went down a storm. Even if he did say I laughed like Jimmy Savile. (I don’t.)

tez-ilyas-againThe second part of the show was solo Tez, taking us through his life and experiences and opening up a whole new understanding between different racial backgrounds and cultural practices – but underlining that we’re all Made in Britain. He plays with his name; we are his Tezbians, even though at home he is not Tehzeeb; he said it meant the Scourge of Beelzebub or something like that but I Googled it and what he didn’t say is that it’s a girl’s name, so no wonder. He has telling, competitive material about not being mistaken for an Indian – catering industry observations aside. He points out the nonsense (that I’d never considered) that the Jungle Book characters are all voiced with classical western accents (viz. “Shere Khan: How delightful”) – how stupid is that? He talks about his unlikely but ultimately disappointing experience with Tinder and I absolutely get where he’s coming from. And there’s so much more. Primarily you come away with an understanding of how the openly Asian Tez has precisely the same aspirations, foibles and concerns as anyone else – including that tricky subject of how you refer to another race. Personally, I really don’t like the phrase “people of colour” because we’ve all got a colour of sorts, so what the hell does that mean? Tez has his own observations on this and some rather delectably embarrassing examples. But I’m not going to tell you about all his material because a) I can’t remember it, b) it’s not mine to tell and c) it’ll ruin it for the rest of you. Trust me though that the time flies by.

Very likeable, very funny and with instantly recognisable observations about how we all rub along together – or not. Truly the comedy of revelation; you may well come out of this show a different person from the one who went in, and there is no finer compliment I can pay to a performer! There are only a few more dates left in his tour but he’s got a new show coming up in Edinburgh this summer and I’m pretty sure we’ll be catching it. Highly recommended!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 12th May 2017

Dan Evans‘Twas the night before Eurovision, and all through the house not a creature was stirring, because we’d all gone out to the Screaming Blue Murder comedy club. Our genial host Dan Evans was on cracking form as usual, sparring ever-so-gently with the people from TCL Landscaping, a 40-year-old birthday boy, a Jumbo-sized guy who dwarfed everyone around him – and Kate. Dan tried to rope Kate into a bit of banter but she wasn’t having any of it. But she didn’t just go coy and sheepish, she went on the offensive and all it went a bit Pete Tong. Sit anywhere near the front in a comedy club and you might end up part of the action. Dem’s de rules. Never mind, better luck next fortnight.

Debra Jane ApplebyOur first act was Debra-Jane Appleby, quite a posh name for someone who isn’t really that posh. We’d seen her here six years ago (gasp!) where she was our commère for the evening. This time we got to see her act and there’s no doubt about it, she’s really funny. She had some brilliant bits of business – like the visual image of your entitlement to a pension getting further and further away, and her material about trying to be gay because you don’t know until you’ve tried it. She’s also great with addressing her weight issues, in which capacity I can definitely feel her pain. A fab start to the evening.

Bobby MairNext up was Bobby Mair, new to us, and once seen never forgotten. A wonderfully warped sense of humour, he delivers his material as though he was your local friendly psychopath. He’s the kind of guy you can trust to say the wrong thing at a funeral. Indeed – he picked one guy at random from the audience and empathised that if his wife were to die, the benefit of it would be that he could at least f*ck a stranger. I loved his material about music festivals and their similarity to refugee camps; but he’s the kind of comic who keeps the material coming at irregular intervals which in itself unsettles you and pulls you up short with a devastating punchline out of the blue. I can say no more. Utterly brilliant.

Christian ReillyOur headline act was Christian Reilly, whom we’ve seen many times before and always puts on a tremendous show of musical comedy, parodying styles and performers, changing their lyrics and always for the better! His Bryan Ferry material was absolutely hilarious and as for his Donald Trump sequence… well yes indeed. He has just the right level of attack and he went down an absolute storm.

Three fantastic acts this week! One more Screaming Blue on 26th May before it hibernates for the summer. You should come!

Review – Stuart Goldsmith, Compared to What, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 5th May 2017

Compared to whatWe’ve seen Stuart Goldsmith a few times now, twice as part of a Screaming Blue Murder line-up, once doing his hour-long show entitled, appropriately, An Hour; and even as one of Rob Deering’s guests in an Edinburgh edition of Beat This. Seeing him on that show made me realise that, nice guy though he may be, he has a competitive streak in him that you wouldn’t want to challenge. (Unless you were even more competitive, of course.) He does actually seem to grow nicer and nicer as the years mellow him; much of his excellent current material centres on finally becoming a dad at the age of 39 (that’s his age, not his son’s) and his genuine love of his new status radiates from every punchline. By the time he retires, he’s probably going to have become a national treasure.

He gets a great rapport going with the audience from the very start but, be not afraid, he’s not the kind of comic who ropes in “victims” throughout the whole of his routine. It’s relatively safe to sit near the front and not be picked on – well maybe just a little bit. Of course, if you pick on yourself… like the lady who heckled his first sentence with an observation about his online biography, then, yes, as they very nearly say in Chicago, she had it coming. Mr Goldsmith’s natural authority lets you know simply – but firmly – that he’s in charge, and all the audience has to do is laugh.

Stuart GoldsmithIt’s carefully scripted, but he’s not a slave to his material; inventively setting up a few ideas as he progresses, to which he can return from a different angle towards the end. He even highlights one of these at the beginning; he tells you he’s going to save the life of a tiny kitten just at the part of the show where he worries he might be perceived unfavourably. You laugh; you then forget about it; and then about 90% of the way through the show he just makes a slightly dark suggestion, pauses, and on comes the kitten. It’s a delightful way of emphasising both the slightly dark material and the fact that he wants to come across as A Nice Guy, so puncturing the dark material at the same time.

Other very funny highlights from his material involve the fun you can have with an Airbnb booking (naughty Alfredo!) and the comparison between living somewhere hectic and rat-racey – like the centre of London where life is to be lived– and somewhere peaceful and relaxing, like the goddam middle of nowhere, where life is meant to be snoozed through. Mr Goldsmith has now been tricked into moving to the back of beyond by his partner, provocatively becoming pregnant so that he had to live where she wanted. The sacrifices us men have to make, honestly. Having been bored to tears in the country before succumbing to the metropolitan madness of Northampton, I feel his pain.

Stuart GAs with last time, his material lasts approximately an hour, so, after an interval, we come back and Mr G gives us some work-in-progress ideas to see if they raise a chuckle. He took this opportunity last year to give us lots of new baby material, much of which, at the time, I thought, missed the mark a bit; but now we can see that he’s turned it into the great show that we’d seen earlier on. Just goes to prove that you can never really tell how new material’s going to develop. I must say, his wip ideas are absolutely cracking and we had easily as much fun in the second half as in the first. I loved the insider information segment, which includes how a fireman tackles a blaze; and a hilarious sequence when he compares the hands-on attitude of American cops to their British counterparts – having worked in enforcement in my younger days, I agree with this wholeheartedly! There are also the surprise benefits of suggesting you might not be 100% heterosexual, and some fascinating questions with a lady in the front row who was a full time Youtuber – you’ve never felt an audience instantly grow so jealous of someone they’d never met!

Stuart Goldsmith’s tour continues for the rest of the month before enjoying a week at the Soho Theatre London. Effortless, excellent humour; and he saves a kitten, what more could you want?

Review – Abigail’s Party May Day Eve, Upstairs at the North London Tavern, Kilburn, 30th April 2017

Abigail BurdessThis was our third comedy night out in four days, so don’t try and tell me we’re not funny. A different venue and venture for us this time; Abigail Burdess and Dave Tozer co-hosting an evening of comedy with three acts nestling around one decent interval and one emergency pause. The venue and the event as a whole has a real fringey feel to it that I find instantly appealing. As far as I can make out, the roles within the structure of the show are: 1) Abigail is the host and boss, welcoming us with some jokes and the ground rules, putting us at ease and inviting us to poke fun at 2) Dave, who is the butt of all jokes – and sound engineer. During the intervals we could either dance around Dave’s pole, or write on his forehead. I couldn’t possibly do either; after all, we went to the same school. Also I was sitting behind his mum, and I don’t think she would have been impressed.

Dave TozerAs it was May Day Eve, Abigail and Dave were in full Morris Dancing rig up, complete with fertility rite hankies, although Dave was in ballet tights which I have to say I can’t quite recall from the days I used to follow the Oxford Morris Men… but that’s another story. Abigail and Dave did have some terrific material which they shared during the course of the evening, including what constitutes acceptable heckling, what is the old name for crowdfunding, and how did you meet people for casual sex before the days of the Internet. Having been around in those days I can authoritatively confirm for anyone who is in doubt, that it simply never happened. At all; by anyone.

Ben CloverOur first act was Ben Clover, with whom you can instantly sympathise, as he used to get some horrible nicknames at school; thus he decided to re-enact his coping strategies with the aid of members of the audience. I felt his pain having suffered similar embarrassment myself as a kid. Mr Clover is a naturally very funny man with a sunny disposition that comes from having met his partner through Guardian Soulmates. We loved his calculation that the more tolerant you are of minorities in society, the disadvantaged or those seeking refuge, the less likely you are to be tolerant of lactose, gluten, dairy and so on. It’s 100% a proven fact. He carried us along with his terrific humorous observations and the time just flew by. An easy and delightful way to spend half an hour or more.

Omar and LeeNext up came Omar and Lee, a likeable pair of likely lads who ooze confidence and charisma and use it to their best advantage. Their opening section – where Lee is training Omar in the ways of how to be sexy – was occasionally hit and miss for me; some great ideas but something about it just didn’t quite connect. Obviously I am already sufficiently sexy not to have to take note, or I am so far off the mark that I would have to start with remedial classes. Others were guffawing madly all around, so I accept it was me who was off-kilter. However, once they got into their night-out mime routine I thought they were completely hysterical; beautifully inventive, skilfully choreographed and pinpoint accurately executed. I could watch that again and again. The act then moved on to Omar being visited by The Sacred Feminine but then taking it slightly more to heart than intended – which was really funny – and ended up with some pre-election advice with which I can only fully concur. We’ve not seen these two guys before but I was really impressed and look forward to seeing what else they can do.

Pippa EvansOur final act and – as advertised, as seen on the telly – was Pippa Evans, a member of the Showstoppers team (whom we haven’t seen) but we had seen Pippa six years ago at a Screaming Blue Murder in her alter ego of Loretta Maine, when she absolutely aced it – and in fact she was runner-up for the Screaming Blue Murder Chrisparkle Award that year; so high praise indeed. Pippa is just a natural performer – she’s so comfortable at drifting into comedy songs that, when you look at her, you really do believe that life genuinely could be like a musical. She’s gifted with the accents too, so she can create some great moments of humour by descending into Australian or Geordie at the drop of a pint of Fosters. I loved her resting face charity material and also the two roles (just the two) with which she’s successful at auditions. A really fantastic routine and we were all left wanting more.

Abigail'sPartyAnd more will come on the last Sunday of the month. Don’t think we’ll be able to make it, but if you’re in the area this is a bargain of an enjoyable Sunday night’s comedy. Great stuff!

P. S. I would like to add a personal note of thanks to whoever put together the background music at the start and during the intervals: how wonderful to hear Spike Milligan’s Q theme again.