Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 3rd November 2017

Screaming Blue MurderSometimes you think you can predict how a Screaming Blue Murder will go, and sometimes you’re way off the mark… Surprise No 1 last Friday was that they’d changed the stage layout (such as it is) so that it straddled a corner of the room rather than the traditional square to the edge of the room – and I think that different perspective really worked. They’d also studded the backdrop with little lights which looked very jolly and gave the whole thing more of a sense of showbizzy occasion. I hope they keep it that way!

Dan EvansThe audience were quite a weird bunch on Friday night. The front two rows were exclusively taken up by one group of people, celebrating Mark’s 50th birthday (Congratulations Mark). Unfortunately, it meant they were all constantly laughing at things other members of the party were saying, which didn’t mean anything to the rest of us, so there was a feeling of being left out. Mark, you didn’t look 50, but your explanation about your accent went on a bit. The good thing was that our genial host Dan Evans was on cracking form and played off those first two rows beautifully, comparing the comedic value of one man’s heckles against another, and going where angels fear to tread with a lady in a white jumper that looked like she had her finger in the electric light socket.

OlaOur first act was Ola, whom we’ve seen twice before in 2012 and 2013 and I remember him being an absolute hoot. He still is; with his understated and deliberate delivery, slowly setting up situations for him to rip down at his leisure. He used the concept of telling people “it’s your fault” in many different and clever ways, which was much funnier than it sounds. Some lovely observations about race, swingers on wi-fi, and a new definition of a hard Brexit. A real master of his art, and constantly surprising. A great opener.

Joey PageNext up was Joey Page, whom we’d also seen before, back in 2015. He was great that time, so I was expecting something similar – but, unpredictably, somehow he just failed to get into gear. He still has his made-up facts, which are still very funny, and he still comes across as an engaging character but the material just never quite hit the mark. He got a guy from the front row up on stage to assist him in one routine, but this chap was sadly a bit dull. Ah well, it happens sometimes.

Paul ThorneOur headline act was Paul Thorne, who was new to us, and he was pure class right from the start. As he was developing a thread, again unpredictably, somewhere from the back of the room came the sound of a huge wet chunder. Imagine the sound of loudly pouring a full kettle of water onto rubber matting – I know, sorry to be so disgusting. The rather inebriated source of the vomit was quickly ushered out, presumably to spend the rest of the evening on the toilet. Although more than gobsmacked at the interruption, this was a fantastic opportunity for Mr Thorne to guide him through the rest of his set; it’s startling how many ways there are to weave vomit into your comic material. Just brilliant. Additionally, I loved his material about why Theresa May was no good at the Home Office, and his observations on a Taliban Gap Year were genius.

So, all in all, an unusual Screaming Blue, but still extremely funny. There’s one more left in this season, in two weeks’ time – sadly we’re otherwise engaged, so I’ll look forward to seeing more next year!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 13th October 2017

Dan EvansBack for another Screaming Blue Murder at the Royal and Derngate, with Dan Evans in charge (as usual) with a motley crew of punters some of whom were a bit tricky vis-à-vis letting their Friday night mood take over. But we did have the man who makes the plastic pieces that create the folds in the manufacture of cardboard boxes… so that’s all good then. There was Chris the birthday boy and Robin the front row chap who I could tell was a challenge just from looking at the back of his head. And then there was the lady directly in front of me; more of her later.

Funmbi OmotayoWe’d seen all the acts before but they were all on cracking form; when that happens it’s like choosing your favourite pizza toppings because you don’t always need to try something different. Our first act was Funmbi Omotayo, whom we saw last year at the Edinburgh Fringe. He’s a disarmingly charming, friendly guy who uses his humour to challenge some notions of racism but he does it oh so kindly. I loved his take on how he ought to be a real tough dude, overflowing with intimidating attitude, but it doesn’t work because he can’t stop his coquettish little smile peeping through. He’s got some great material, including changing a tyre with the police, a glance at the Paralympics and his analysis of living in Hackney. He even gave us some political observations; that’s normally a kiss of death in Northampton because for some reason collectively we just don’t care, but he actually hit the mark with that too. Very likeable, very funny, and a great way to start the night.

Eleanor TiernanNext up was Eleanor Tiernan, whom we saw at Screaming Blue Murder last year when she was slow to warm up but then exploded. This time she was absolutely on the ball from the start. With that lovely Irish lilt to her voice, she has a wonderfully self-deprecating style, bringing in some subtle Brexit material by revealing that she had no idea that Ireland was in the EU. As usual she really comes to the fore when she’s (comically) examining aspects of the vagina – I won’t spoil it for you but she shared the most fantastic metaphor which still has me laughing out loud three days later. She also looks on hand dryers in exactly the same way as I do. A brilliant routine.

Andre VincentOur last act was André Vincent, whom we last saw at precisely the same Screaming Blue last year as Eleanor Tiernan… is this significant? We should be told! He’s the kind of chap you can imagine was a right Jack-the-Lad 25 years ago, and probably not much has changed since. He told us the problems of growing up as an André in Brixton, and survival at the Bestival Festival; he’s got a winning way about him in the same way you’d have fun with one of your dad’s mates who ought to know better. He was given a classic opportunity to go off-piste when the lady directly in front of me (see paragraph one) suddenly nodded off during his routine in the most dramatic way, head lolling all over the place, obviously taken into that very deep slumber moment when even a fire alarm wouldn’t wake her up. André’s reaction was hysterical, suggesting we all tiptoe off and leave her to wake up in the morning; when she did come back to the land of the living she was left in no doubt that her ten minutes of coma hadn’t gone unnoticed. By everyone. He rounded off his set with a great story about him meeting milfs in Halifax when he was a youngster. Beautifully told, and really funny.

An excellent night’s comedy! It’s on again in two weeks, but sadly we can’t make that one… line up looks great too…. You’ll have to let me know how it went!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 22nd September 2017

Screaming Blue MurderHaving missed the first Screaming Blue Murder of the autumn – and by all accounts it was 100% fab – we definitely made sure to get tickets for this one. Great to see that it was a sell-out, and that in order to get all the people in the Underground bunker, they had to curve the front row seats around either end of the stage. (I say “stage”; it’s more like an upside-down pallet, but you get my meaning). Dan Evans was back in charge, and on cracking form. This week in the front row he had to cope with Five Guys, not named Moe, but drinkers at The Yeoman pub in Wootton.Dan Evans They were jolly chaps, but if drinking at that pub makes you as follically challenged as those guys – then maybe I’ll take a pass. There was a posh girl called Victoria with her buddies and a guy called Graham who makes exceedingly good cakes for a well-known bakery company was celebrating his 31st birthday as part of an extended family outing. They were all very well behaved and contributed nicely to the evening – which is something you can only rarely say at this gig.

Tony CowardsWe’d seen all the acts before, but it had been a long while back for two of them, so it was good to get a re-visit. First up was Tony Cowards, whom we last saw back in 2011, when he came 4th in the Annual Chrisparkle Awards for Screaming Blue stand-up: no mean feat. In some respects, Mr Cowards isn’t an obvious joke-front-man; he’s quite reserved and retiring in appearance and voice; but his material is puntastic. He loves to take a word and put it in the wrong context in a throwaway line, thus creating some really funny mental images. I was well taken with the idea of a coffee enema (you never know when it might come in useful) and the constipated detective (you can guess the punchline yourself). But you might not work out what you get when you rearrange the letters of A POSTMAN. In his half hour or so he must have treated us to at least a hundred jokes and puns; he must be one of the hardest working guys in stand up, I reckon. He’s really inventive and very funny – even if the guy on the opposite side of the aisle from me wouldn’t crack a smile on his stony face. Ah, well, you can’t win them all.

Ria LinaNext was Ria Lina, whom we saw here back in 2013, and on that occasion, I didn’t think she made her material work properly. It’s always a little dangerous when the main topic of your humour is race – she has to tread a fine line between the funny and the offensive – and that last time, funny didn’t win. So this time I wasn’t expecting too much. Wrong! Her material worked an absolute treat. It isn’t an easy ride – I had to stop and think about a couple of her punchlines because they definitely challenged me as to what I find acceptable and what I find funny; humour won the argument, and I allowed myself to be swayed by the laughter of the audience. She also had a couple of excellent musical interludes – a big build up to a Brexit song – another bold move considering how much it can divide people – but that was hilarious, and then another about how she ends up sleeping with the boyfriend’s father, thereby creating a wealth of incest material. Lovely!

Steve BestOur final act, and someone we’ve seen many times, was Steve Best; as manic and off the wall as ever. If you’ve not seen Mr Best do his stuff before it can really take you by surprise; it’s a very special kind of challenging. One of the Yeoman pub guys was literally helpless with laughter for all the time he was on stage. To be fair, I don’t think he’s changed the act at all in all four times we’ve seen him; but it’s a winning formula, so why bother?! I do love the cunning way he ends the act with a visual resolution of a callback that you’ve got no idea had even been set up. As predicted, he was a resounding success.

Another Screaming Blue in three weeks’ time – can’t wait!

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 – 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 – 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 – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 3rd March 2017

Screaming Blue MurderWe’ve attended 77 (yikes!) editions of Screaming Blue Murder over the years but this one was something different for me at least – because instead of being accompanied by Mrs Chrisparkle, I was one of ten guys out on a stag do, in honour of my future stepfather-in-law (Sir William) in preparation for his forthcoming nuptuals with my mother-in-law (Lady Duncansby). As well as some of Sir William’s old pals, also present were my three stepbrothers-in-law-to-be, and one of my future stepnephews-in-law. Debrett’s are going to have a Field Day. Naturally, like all good hen and stag parties we hogged the front row, placing Sir William in the centre so that he could get the full attention of the comics. However, unlike most hen and stag parties, our groom is the fine old age of 74, and at least three of the four people on stage that night did a double-take when they saw him. Good on him for taking it all in the best possible spirit, which is what he’d been drinking solidly since 5pm.

Dan EvansDan Evans was in charge as usual, and on fine form as he traded banter with some vociferous youngsters on our left, explored hairdressing options (like his follicles, few and far between) with a young female barber, and got thoroughly confused as to the ages of Sir William’s sons. Towards the end he revealed that he hadn’t made one member of our party crack a smile the whole evening, to which the latter responded that he had enjoyed the show, but as Dan noted, just kept his enjoyment to himself. We could have told Dan that he always looks like that.

Wendy WasonOur first act was Wendy Wason, whom I’ve seen once before and she’s a thoroughly enjoyable act. She’s bright and breezy, just a little bit posh, and full of confidence as she shares her parenting experiences and a host of middle class neuroses. She had lots of good material involving sex but I was grateful that none of it was too rude; after all, sex humour doesn’t always have to be in the gutter. Last time we saw she was absolutely filthy! She gained an excellent rapport with the crowd and went down very well.

Robert WhiteOur second act, in a change to the advertised programme, was Robert White. Mrs C and I have seen Mr White several times and there is possibly no better comic to handle a stag do. I say handle advisedly, as he combines his Asperger Syndrome with his continuous gay double entendres, some of which he converts into on the spot made up songs. At his best Mr White can be unbeatable; and indeed he was last Friday night. He got Sir William up on stage and, after using subterfuge to check out his backside, they shared a joint rendition of I’d Do Anything, where – well you can guess the shenanigans that Sir William agreed to get up to with Mr White. Fortunately, it wasn’t just the stag party who found him fantastic, he gauged the mood of the room perfectly and we were all shaking with laughter. A brilliant set.

Nick WiltyOur final act, and also one we’ve seen do successfully many times before, was Nick Wilty. Unfortunately, when Mr White is on fire like he was last Friday, any act that follows him is at a disadvantage, and Mr Wilty’s understated self-deprecating delivery, like Ray Winstone with a headache, just didn’t have the attack required to make an impact. If he and Mr White had swapped places it would have worked so much better, because Mr Wilty’s material is really funny once you “get” his style. We still laughed – but just not as much we’d have liked.

For various inconsequential reasons, we can’t go to another Screaming Blue now until 21st April. You’ve no excuse though – the best value comedy around!