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.

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 28th April 2017

Dan EvansIf it feels like it was only last week that they had the last Screaming Blue Murder – you’re right! We hadn’t been able to get to one for ages and then along they all come like the proverbial No. 10 bus. However, this week Dan Evans was back in the hosting saddle, so I knew I was going to be safe unlike last week….! At Friday’s show, Dan’s challenges were provided by (as is often the case) members of the police force in the front row, an ebullient and uninhibited musician chap wearing a hat (it wasn’t raining, indoors or out) and an intimidatingly handsome man who sized golf clubs for a living. I guess someone must. Dan, as ever, on top form, rose to all these challenges and surpassed them.

Susan MurrayOur first act, and one we’ve seen no fewer than four times before at previous Screaming Blues, was Susan Murray. Always great value, and with an enjoyable mix of old and new stuff, she’s absolutely ace at creating really funny material out of her excellent range of regional accents – I particularly loved the Brummy skiing idea. She’s maturing up now, with excellent observations about sharing a bed with a cat, and the emotional torment that is replacing a boiler – having just done the same, Mrs Chrisparkle and I really felt her pain. She built to an inventive musical climax designed for householders bogged down with domestic admin – very clever. She was on great form and went down very well in the audience.

James SherwoodSecond up, and someone we’ve seen twice before, once as a comic and once as a host, was the excellent James Sherwood. I think this was the best we’ve seen him; he was at his most relaxed, so when his opening remarks were completely overshadowed by some nitwit comment from the audience, he completely went with the flow which meant he spent the first five minutes talking, totally at random – but absolutely hilariously – about socks. He’s at his best when, perched aside his keyboard, he reduces song lyrics to the absurd: I particularly enjoyed his version of Sly and the Family Stone’s Family Affair. He had some great material involving sexually transmitted diseases (as you do), including the story of the guy at a clinic who had five hundred sexual partners a year and his somewhat unique discharge. He looks a little like a poor man’s David Mitchell but is probably funnier. Absolutely brilliant set.

Daliso-ChapondaAs if we hadn’t already had a great night, our headline act was the new to us – and absolutely astounding – Daliso Chaponda. Malawi’s greatest export after tobacco, Mr Chaponda has an infectious smile and delivers his thought-provoking and cheeky material at a cracking pace; and Mrs C and I did not stop laughing our heads off for the full half hour. “Five hundred years ago, this would have been an auction” he says, which absolutely nails his whole irreverent but very revealing attitude to comedy. If we’re unhappy at levels of immigration in the UK, he says, it’s our fault because all his history lessons at school in Malawi were about King Henry VIII, so of course he had to come here! He mocks us for being fed up at the prospect of a third general election/referendum in three years, with our revelling in the kind of “gratuitous democracy” that he could only dream of in Malawi. It’s not only political awareness comedy though – as his visual demonstration of enjoying a 69 when you’re a lot shorter than your partner testified. An absolutely superb set of varied comedy that we really didn’t want to end, and he got one of the best receptions I can remember at a Screaming Blue in all the eight years we’ve been coming. Just brilliant – and definitely a contender for January’s Chrisparkle Awards.

Two more Screaming Blues coming up this Spring, and after that you’ll have to wait till Autumn. Why wait? The next one’s in two weeks!

Review – Bluelight Comedy Magic, Borjia, Northampton, 27th April 2017

BluelightI’ve discovered a new (to me at least) fixture on the local comedy circuit – the Bluelight Comedy Magic show, which has been going for some time but last night had their first outing at the rather swish and showy Borjia bar in Northampton. All proceeds from the evening went to Rape Crisis to support their important work (and I won a very fine looking bottle of champagne in the raffle into the bargain!)

BorjiaMrs Chrisparkle and I, along with Lord and Lady Prosecco, Prinz Markus von Köln (second in line to the Prosecco family estate) and our hosts for the evening Mr and Mrs Jolly-Japester, took our specially reserved seats across the front row. Not quite sure how we scored that, but I’m not complaining. I think we were five on a bench for three, so only a small portion of my posterior felt the pleasure of the padding, but three pints of Asahi made up for that.

TrixtaOur MC for the evening, and the man behind the Bluelight, although I think he’s now chucked in the blue light for full time comedy and magic, was The Trixta (aka Ashley), who kept everything going at a cracking pace but also left us plenty of time to get our glasses charged – always a vital element of any comedy night.

Chris Randall VegasFirst up, and all the way from Las Vegas – I kid you not – was the fantastic magician Chris Randall. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such extraordinary magic at really close quarters and yet not have a clue as to how he did what he did; but then I am a sucker for magic. Mrs C always pooh-poohs it as some inferior kind of entertainment until she actually sees it, and then her jaw drops just as far anyone else’s. The thing is, one always itches to know how someone performs a magic trick, but I am so glad that I don’t know how magic works, because if I did, it wouldn’t be magic anymore; so don’t tell me!

Chris Randall cardsMr Randall did a trick with what appeared to be dental floss, pushing it up into his neck so that it apparently went right through the skin; and when he pulled at either end of it, the skin either side of his neck got pulled out too! Made me feel quite queasy but it’s an amazing illusion. He procured two £20 notes from members of the public (including Lord Prosecco) who wrote their names on the notes and which he then made disappear, only to reappear sometime later trapped inside a satsuma! He got me out of the audience and performed a trick where torn bits of paper were strangely re-assembled to create a hat, but what particularly impressed me was that whilst I was onstage with him, he managed to get my watch off me and put it on his own wrist without my noticing. Mrs C is right – I am so unobservant. He did plenty more tricks besides, including ending up with an extraordinary display of cardsharpery. He’s one helluva magician.

Robin BootAfter a break, we next met Robin Boot, armed and extremely dangerous with his guitar and he’s not afraid to use it. If I tell you that, for his opening gambit, he sang – to the tune of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, Toe of the Camel, I think you’ll get his general drift. That song will never be the same again. He’s a really funny guy who blends ridiculous and reasonably filthy humour with his disarmingly enjoyable guitar work to great comic effect. He also achieves a great rapport with the audience and we all loved him. Mr Jolly-Japester was required to exercise his dong during his act. You had to be there.

Dan NightingaleOur headline act for the evening was comic Dan Nightingale. One of those gifted guys who makes it all look so easy, he kept us laughing our socks off for ages. Whether it was about being a Mancunian, with all that accent entails, or being a young father with all that sleeplessness that entails, or having a wife that deleted your only tv appearance off the skybox, with all the resentment that entails, his great material just kept coming and coming. He’s a very likeable guy with effortless style and again, he really went down well with the whole room.

Bluelight in full flowAt only £10 that was fantastic value for money and also hopefully raised bucketloads for Rape Crisis. Apparently, the next show will be in June, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for further details. Brilliant fun, can’t wait for next time! (P.S. You don’t have to look too hard to spot Mrs C and me on this photo!)

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 21st April 2017

Screaming Blue MurderIt’s been a few weeks since we last went to a Screaming Blue Murder, and when I finally snuck my way through the crowds into the Underground my preferred seat(s) had already been taken. Slightly emboldened by the fact that I knew regular host Dan Evans wouldn’t pick on me, I ventured one row closer to the stage. And what happens? “Ladies and gentlemen, meet your host and compere for this evening, Windsor!” Windsor. Not Dan. We’ve seen Windsor before, he’s brilliant. I knew precisely what was in store.

WindsorLess than 30 seconds into his material he’d ascertained my name and assured me that we’d be working a lot together during the course of the evening. He wasn’t wrong. By the time we’d finished he made me confess our favourite sexual position and had me demonstrate to two other guys the correct amount of pressure to apply to a clitoris. He’s a fantastic host, because, despite all that, he really puts the audience at ease – he was excellent in his interaction with the girls from a certain hotel in West Haddon – and, even if he picks on you, he’s never cruel and I enjoyed the opportunity for a little friendly sparring!

Luke BensonWe’d seen all the three comics before but that didn’t matter because they were all on top form and fresh as daisies. First up was Luke Benson, the gentle, genial Geordie giant, all 6ft 7in of him. As you might expect, he gets a lot of great material from his height; his girlfriend goes up on him, for example. He forms a great connection with the audience, reacts inventively to anything that happens during his set, and he’s absolutely right about how there are some things you just can’t measure in millimetres. He went down really well.

Juliet MeyersOur second act was Juliet Meyers, who I remember always likes to use the C word within her first few exchanges – and once again she didn’t disappoint. She had a lot of new material since the last time we saw her, which was great, including how to cope with a needy dog, and the problems that women face going to the GP. I think she really succeeds when there are a substantial number of women in the audience, as there were last Friday – and she really capitalised on that!

Anthony KingOur headline act was Anthony King, brilliant interpreter of psychopathic crime to music, which is way funnier than it sounds. You wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover he is the inspiration for all the criminals on Midsomer Murders. Sometimes he just can’t quite maintain the straight face which makes it even better. I still feel sorry for the centipede. 100% hilarious.

A really superb night’s comedy, with everyone giving their best – and also, if I may say so myself, we were a cracking audience. Windsor said at the end that the next one will be in May… but one look in my ticket drawer shows that it’s on again next week. So why not come?!