Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 12th October 2018

Screaming Blue MurderAnother Friday night, another sold-out Screaming Blue Murder comedy club night. Last time, our genial host Dan Evans never made it to Northampton as his old jalopy gave up the ghost at Milton Keynes, and Meryl O’Rourke bravely stepped up to the mark. But lightning never strikes twice, etc, so surely he’d be there on time this week….surely…. But a 45-minute delay on the trains meant we were denied the pleasure of Dan’s company until the first interval. I dunno…. beginning to get a complex here.

Joe WellsInstead it fell to opening act and all-round political comedian par excellence, Joe Wells, to act as his own MC warm up before delivering his own 20-minute slot. With Mr Wells, you’re in a very safe pair of hands. We’ve seen him twice in Edinburgh, where you have to queue early to be sure of getting in, such is his word-of-mouth success. Us Northampton comedy crowds aren’t known for our fondness for political comedy, so I did wonder a little how well he would go down. I needn’t have worried. His brilliant political observations, as well as the other gems in his act were as well received as I have ever seen any Northampton audience respond to political comedy. What I love about his material, and his delivery, is the way he swipes the comedic rug from under your feet and sends you hurtling in directions you never foresaw. And hats off to Mr Wells for being complimentary about Northampton. Quite right too.

Dan EvansAfter the first interval Dan finally emerged out of the murkiness that is London Northwestern Railway to give us a slightly belated warm up. He had his hands full with front-row Angie, ebullient and no inhibitions, and they were a pretty good match for each other. There was also Architect Nick with his plans for a million-pound rugby club in Towcester. We weren’t impressed. But we were all aghast at Dan’s tale of the delay at Wolverton station being punctuated by the sight and sound of a guy opposite him in the train clipping his nails; not discreetly into a free newspaper but proudly on to the floor. We all retched.

Susan MurrayNext up was someone we’ve also seen before a few times, Susan Murray – something of a Screaming Blue regular, this was the sixth time we’ve seen her here! She delivers a lot of great material based on accents – as she herself confesses, her Brummie voice isn’t an accent that goes skiing – and there’s a lot of mileage to be gained from her relationship with her strongly Glaswegian parents. She delivered a suitably savage put down to front-row Angie which hit home perfectly. Always very funny and quirky.

Stefano PaoliniOur headline act was someone completely new to us – although he’s been on the circuit for yonks – Stefano Paolini. He truly does have a gift for accents and vocal gymnastics, and we loved his “foreign languages in British regional accents” section, as well as his reminiscences of his interview with the school careers adviser, which were every bit as useless as mine was all those years ago. And he beatboxes – but not just in a show-off way like every other beatboxer, but integrating it into comedy routines which works a treat. He brought the house down and I’d definitely look out for him in the future.

Next Screaming Blue in two weeks’ time. Two questions – will you be there? And will Dan?

Review – Lads Lads Lads, Sara Pascoe, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 30th September 2018

Sara Pascoe Lads Lads LadsHere’s another comedian whom we really should have seen live on stage before now. So far I’ve only ever caught Sara Pascoe on TV game shows and occasionally on the sofa in The Last Leg. She always comes across as a jolly sort, with plenty of brains in there keeping the comedy coming fast and strong. But she also comes across as more than that; a really genuine person, not afraid to let you in to see the less confident and murkier parts of her personality. So I wondered if that’s how she would structure her live stage act.

Answer: on the whole, yes. She has a wonderfully fluid style, pacing her material perfectly, in quite a relaxed, friendly way. She’s not as self-deprecating as some (indeed, she has no reason to be) and in fact is quietly assertive. She says from the start that she’s not the kind of comedian who does lots of “crowd work”, so if you’re expecting it, sorry, but she won’t. In fact, she goes out of her way to say she won’t pick on anyone, she doesn’t mind if you get your phone out, she completely understands that this is just a show and real life goes on outside. I’d hazard to say that’s possibly a unique statement coming out of a comedian’s mouth.

Sara PShe absolutely crams her act with call-backs, and they start falling into place from a very early stage. For example, she tells us that she’s had a number of relationships with men over the years, and afterwards, they all turn vegan. Interesting fact. And then she winds it back into the material several times over the course of the evening. She tells us about a horrendous wedding she went to recently, giving us the name of the bride and groom which I won’t mention here, obviously, and again, she returns to it from all sorts of odd angles several times during the show. Other enjoyable stories that receive serial referrals include the reaction to an Indian takeaway delivery and how she gets on with her personal trainer.

Why Lads Lads Lads? I’m genuinely not sure. OK, she tells us that she’s had quite a lot of them over the past few years, but that’s it, they don’t really play a part in the rest of her material, which is a series of very funny, nicely near-neurotic stories about how she’s managing as a singleton. There’s a lot of great stuff about her yoga retreat in Costa Rica (which isn’t in Spain, apparently), and some very truthful observations about the importance of men paying the bill on a first date – even with the most fervent feminist.

Sara PascoeIt’s not a long evening out – about 100 minutes including a decent interval. But that’s very comfortably paced and planned, and it is a very funny show with lots to discuss with your other half on the way home. Satisfyingly intelligent comedy but with warmth and plenty of human insights. Ms Pascoe’s UK tour continues until the end of November – catch her if you can.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 28th September 2018

Screaming Blue MurderBit of a weird Screaming Blue Murder this week! With an incredible line-up announced in advance, and not surprisingly sold out well before the night, there was only one thing that could go wrong… and that was our genial host Dan Evans being trapped halfway en route, on the motorway in a car that wouldn’t go! A few frantic calls hopefully got him safely home but not via Northampton, where he had a show to compere…! So Meryl O’Rourke, who was scheduled to be our opening act, ended up as MC.

Meryl O’RourkeWe’ve seen Ms O’Rourke a number of times before, both as an act and as a commère, and she’s always superb with jokes that involve vaginas and mingling with the crowd; sometimes literally, sometimes both at the same time. However, at first, her sudden change of role seemed to put her off course as she was no longer comfortable using her prepared material in her MC role. As a result, we were a little under-warmed-up for our first act. However, she made up for it after the interval with some brilliant material that had everyone in hysterics. So kudos to Meryl for sticking with it and coming up trumps!

Ian CognitoOur first act, therefore, was the person who I am sure was meant to be the headline act, which again was cause for a little discomfort – primarily on his part. It was the excellent Ian Cognito, who, despite telling us he’s never won any awards, was the recipient of the Screaming Blue Murder Chrisparkle Award for stand-up of the year in both 2015 and 2016. He did his usual faux-aggressive, rough diamond act, with blisteringly funny observations, many of which go so very near the knuckle. He seemed to find a kindred spirit in front-row Reg, the lorry driver, and he even gave him a Kit-Kat after the interval. Amongst his gems, we discovered a new definition of cockney, what’s got a hundred balls and f*cks rabbits, and a charming new sentiment to be tattooed as a tramp stamp. He’s an irresistibly funny man who never lets the energy drop. Because we had basically lost an act over the course of the evening, Mr C did quite a bit longer than his contracted twenty minutes – probably double. A true trooper indeed.

Robert WhiteOur second act, and by default our headline act, is someone else who always gives brilliant value entertainment, Robert White. Despite his very successful recent appearances on Britain’s Got Talent, he’s still the same, quirky, hilarious and ultimately terrifying comic, with his brilliant off-the-top-of-his-head song lyrics and saucy interplay with the guys in the audience. This time it was good old Reg who got up on to the stage to help Robert with his unique version of I’ll Do Anything. No matter how many times you see Mr White he never fails to render you helpless with laughter, and he was on terrific form.

Next Screaming Blue is on 12th October. Hopefully Dan’s car will be working again!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 14th September 2018

Screaming Blue MurderHurrah and Huzzah, it’s the return of Screaming Blue Murder! After those dark Friday evenings of the summer (well, they were quite light actually, but you get my meaning) where all you could do was to relax in the sunshine and fresh air, eat healthy salads and drink homemade fruit smoothies, it’s a welcome back to spending Friday nights in a dark, overheated cellar room at the Royal and Derngate, knocking back the vino collapso and enjoying the finest comedy on the circuit.

Dan EvansAnd it was a welcome back to our usual genial host, Dan Evans, who was on fine form as he set us all at our ease, including Ian who was celebrating his 57th birthday (youngster!) and the attractive young couple in the front row – it turned out that she was a trainee social worker specialising in child safeguarding, and he worked in recruitment for Help for Heroes, trying to get ex-forces people back into work. As you can imagine, the scope for taking the mick out of them was minimal!

James BranThis was one of those rare occasions when all three comedians were new to us. First up was James Bran, a likeable young chap with a rather cerebral approach to his comedy, which we both appreciated. He had some good material about living in the technological age and a great story about dealing with those “have you been involved in an accident” calls. He built up a nice confident rapport with the audience, and, whilst it was never wet-your-pants hilarious, it was intelligent, well structured, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Rob KempOur next performer, and a change to the original line-up, was Rob Kemp. He’s another really likeable performer with tons of zest and a really positive approach to his act. He’s clearly naturally a very funny guy but his material is more than somewhat on the eclectic side. He started to lose us (and he knew full well this was happening) when he tackled what I’m sure was a very clever parody of the 1982 movie The Thing. However, unless you’re really au fait with the film – and I reckon 99% of us weren’t – so much of it went over our heads. It was a shame because you could tell there was so much preparatory work that went into his act but sadly a lot of it was wasted on us! So although he largely missed the mark, he was still strangely admirable!

Sean MeoOur headline act was Sean Meo, a former professional snooker player but that was some time ago and does not feature in his act. He has quite a dour, semi-aggressive persona, and he spends his act constantly walking from side to side across the stage, like a frustrated caged tiger. His material is devastatingly funny, but not for everyone; he opened with some brilliantly comic observations about ISIS, at which one member of the audience took offence, shouted out “you should be ashamed of yourself” and stormed out. I can completely understand that; if your son had died in Helmand Province, for example, you’re unlikely to find that kind of stuff funny. However, Mr Meo simply carried on, making the observation that she made the mistake of taking it seriously, and to his absolute credit, it didn’t affect the comedy flow in any way. The best way I can describe his entire set is as being superbly offensive – I’m sure you’ve got the idea. His timing is immaculate, his delivery sure-fire. You have complete confidence in his ability to hit the comedy nail on the head again and again. We thought he was fantastic, and would definitely seek him out again.

As always, a fabulous night of comedy, with a sell-out audience. Next one is in two weeks’ time. Will you be there?

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2018 – Spank! 25th August 2018

SpankNow it’s time for our third and final visit to the show that’s one of our annual, must-see events. It’s the irrepressibly brilliant James Loveridge and an equally amazingly wonderful female host – not sure who she’ll be quite yet – presenting Spank! at Belly Dancer @ Underbelly, Cowgate, at midnight on the night of Saturday 25th. Here’s the blurb: “Spank! returns for an incredible 15th year with hilarious hosts, awesome comedians and gratuitous nudity. Showcasing the most exciting comedy and cabaret on the Fringe, don’t miss the ‘best wild night out’ (Scotland on Sunday) at the festival! ‘Comedy and legendary party night… if you haven’t experienced this night, get down there right away!’ (Time Out). ‘It’s raunchy, raucous and ridiculous. Utterly and absolutely hilarious’ ***** (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Everything you could hope for in a late-night comedy showcase… absolutely must-see show’ ***** (ThreeWeeks). ‘Atmosphere is electric… you just don’t quite know what is going to happen next… superb’ ***** (One4Review.co.uk).”

This is also going to be our final show of the Fringe for this year. Let’s hope they give us a great send off! I’m hoping that, even though this is the Saturday show, it will still be hosted by James; they don’t seem to be doing a Spanktacular show this year. Check back around 3am (or maybe early on Sunday morning) to see who were the guests, who got naked and how much fun we had. And thanks so much to everyone for reading, and I hope I gave you a feel for the spirit and excitement of the Fringe – and if you didn’t come this year, you must come in 2019!!

Final night in Edinburgh, final Spank. As enduring as Arthur’s seat, as constant as the morning star. Hosting was the new dream team of James Loveridge and Evan Desmarais, and our guests were Hot Mess, a musical misanthrope called Richard, Clara Cupcakes, the brilliant Tim Renkow, Tamsyn Kelly, Ro Campbell and the superb Lauren Pattison who threw a glass of beer over a punter who wouldn’t stop talking…. well she did warn him. The naked promo was a guy called James who simply did it so he could sing Happy birthday to Megan. Always an amazing night, still unbeatable entertainment!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2018 – Foil, Arms and Hog: Craicling, 25th August 2018

Foil Arms Hog 18We’ve left one of the top Edinburgh attractions till almost the end. We saw these guys in Edinburgh in both 2016 and 2017 with their shows DoomDah and Oink, and they never fail to bring joy. They’re Foil, Arms and Hog: Craicling, at McEwan Hall @ Underbelly, Bristo Square, at 21:00 on Saturday 25th. Here’s the blurb (which stays the same, year in, year out): “Irish comedy, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato… you racist. Sold-out Fringe 2009-2017. Over 100 million hits on YouTube. Foil, Arms and Hog celebrate a decade at the festival with their best show yet, Craicling. ***** (Irish Times). **** (Times). ***** (Irish Examiner). ‘Very funny’ (Rowan Atkinson). ‘An effervescent hour of fast-paced gags, fizzing with energy, invention and great lines’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘Quite simply, a sensation’ (Edinburgh Festivals Magazine).”

In 2016 I got roped into so many sketches with them, because we sat in the front row. I have to say, I loved every minute of it! Last year I managed to avoid such audience participation. Check back around 10.15pm to see if I got into trouble again. By then the final preview blog should be available to read too.

As always, the three guys give us some brilliant, wacky sketches, with a reasonable amount of audience participation! You never quite know where anything is heading! It’s an extremely large hall, but surprisingly you don’t really miss the intimacy of the old smaller venues. Next year the Albert Hall?

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2018 – Ben Clover: Crème Brûlée, 25th August 2018

Ben CloverOur next show stars a comedian whom I saw for the first time last year in one of these various variety-type shows and he really impressed me with his likeable and thoroughly recognisable brand of humour. It’s Ben Clover: Crème Brûlée at The Loft @ Laughing Horse @ The Counting House at 14:45 on Saturday 25th. Here’s the blurb: “A single creme brûlée can change the course of your whole life. Find out how in the latest show from award-winning stand-up Ben Clover. ‘A delight’ (Chortle.co.uk). ‘Comedy gold’ (Bruce Dessau, Evening Standard). ‘Impressive’ (LondonisFunny.com).”

I have no idea how a dessert can change your life but I’m willing to find out! Check back around 4pm to see what it was all about. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Ben’s tale of dessert-based revenge is crammed with jokey observations and has loads of opportunities for very entertaining banter with the audience. He really creates a warm and comfy environment for us all to relax; a small venue which Ben uses to its best advantage. Lots of laughs in this very funny gig!