Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 1st February 2019

Screaming Blue MurderThe first Screaming Blue Murder of the year is always an excuse for a celebration and by the time we arrived at the Royal and Derngate, the queue to get in to the Underground was already longer than I’d ever seen it before. Fortunately we still managed to get our favourite seats – back row of front section, on the central aisle – which is close enough to feel part of the action and safe enough (usually) not to catch the comic’s eye and thus become part of the act.

Dan EvansOur host was the ever-genial and effervescent Mr Dan Evans, who whips us up into a frenzy so that we’re ready for our acts. As usual, Dan spent some time getting to know the people in the front rows, which included blingy Jo and her drama-teacher sister; front row Brian, who didn’t quite participate to the extent he should have; Frank from the Netherlands who met his wife in a field; and the fresh-faced family from Brackley, who looked like butter wouldn’t melt but ended up revealing themselves as a partner-swapping outfit. The dynamic’s different from week to week but Dan always comes up trumps.

Julian DeaneOur first act was Julian Deane, whom we’d seen once before, when he was Paul Chowdhry’s support act. He has a very dry, subtle style, which means he lulls you into a false sense of security, and when you think you know which way his story is going it suddenly goes off in a different direction that you totally weren’t expecting; for instance, when he tells us he and his girlfriend are not ready for children yet – which really upsets them. He’s especially good at taking an innovative approach to a familiar subject. We’d heard some of his material before at the Paul Chowdhry gig but nevertheless spending half an hour in his company is still a fresh and hilarious experience. I love his line about how it’s wrong to have a favourite child, and the brilliant gag which reveals the difference between dyslexia and paedophilia. Very assured, very enjoyable, and a great way to start the night.

Micky OvermanNext up was Micky Overman – new to us, and she’s a bright, confident, young Dutch lady. Funny material, full of attack; but some of the audience didn’t quite seem to know just how to take her. Maybe she was just a little more sexually aggressive than we’re used to with our young ladies. From the older ones, we expect it; but when it comes from the younger ones, it surprises us more. She had a lot of good stuff about the association of Amsterdam with drugs; and also her friendship with the thirteen-year-old girl she’s been nannying. A strong stage presence and nice interaction with the audience.

Steve BestOur last act – and a fairly last-minute change to the advertised programme – was the one and only Steve Best, whom we’ve now seen five times at Screaming Blues, always doing the same madcap act and always a complete delight. The trouble is, if you don’t “get” his act, you won’t like it, as illustrated by the reaction of the front row drama-teacher who had a face like a ripped trainer throughout. Fortunately, Mr Best didn’t let that slow him down, and his usual set involving a balloon, a red nose, a toilet seat and a blow-up doll went down like the proverbial house on fire. Fast, frantic, slapstick and ridiculous, don’t come to him expecting an evening of intellectual rigour; but if you like your humour ultimately silly, he’s your man.

Next Screaming Blue is in two weeks on 15th February. We can’t go, so let us know how it went.

Review – Paul Chowdhry, Live Innit, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 5th March 2018

Paul Chowdhry Live InnitI can’t believe it was three and a half years ago that we last saw Paul Chowdhry doing his PC’s World show in the intimate setting of the Royal Theatre. Now he’s in the Derngate auditorium – over two nights – and virtually sold out for both shows. As he described the Derngate, that’s where the white comedians play. Only Mr Chowdhry can get away with making such remarks without causing offence because, basically, he’s just so damn funny.

Paul ChowdhryIt was, however, an odd evening in many respects, none of them Mr Chowdhry’s fault. Our two tickets in the middle of row F had been double-booked, so a couple who arrived a few minutes after us were disappointed to see a middle-aged couple settled in where they should be sat. The usherette took our tickets and said she would sort it with the Box Office. Then during the interval the duty manager informed us that the Box Office said we had cancelled our tickets back in September and had been refunded with a gift certificate. A hugely embarrassing moment, it felt like we were being accused of a theatre-ticket version of shoplifting. As it turns out we had in fact cancelled a different show but the Box Office had cancelled the wrong one. As a result we had to give up our choice seats and sit in a different area of the auditorium, where I would never normally choose to sit – and it felt a long way from the stage and lacked the usual atmosphere I would expect from a comedy gig. I wouldn’t say it completely ruined the night for us, but it didn’t do it any favours.

Julian DeaneHowever; back to the show. We started off with a support act – Julian Deane. We’d not seen him before and I rather liked his dry and subtle delivery; he has a very clever way of setting up a joke so that the punchline comes at an unexpected point in the story, that catches you out. He has some good material about being a young parent, how it’s wrong to have a favourite child, and the difference between dyslexia and paedophilia. Although he was only on for twenty minutes, he definitely made an impact and gave us lots to laugh at. I’d say that maybe he just lacks a little vocal confidence on the big stage which could turn a very good performance into a great one. But everyone enjoyed his act and we all felt thoroughly warmed up.

Paul Chowdhry with a big beardMuch anticipation for Mr Chowdhry, and when he comes on he just grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for an hour and a half. His first topic was brilliant – and that’s the ridiculing of people who bought their tickets from Viagogo rather than from the venue. One person admitted to paying £60 for their ticket; others appeared too embarrassed to mention the cost. The Royal and Derngate were charging £20 and that’s all that needs to be said. I loved him calling out Viagogo for their greedy legalised touting; they’re a disgrace.

As usual, he then tried to establish the racial mix of his crowd; loads of Bengalis, quite a few Sikhs, a rich swathe of Gujaratis, a handful of Muslims and the rest were assorted white Daves and Tracies. Some comedians shy away from the subject of race. For Paul Chowdhry, it’s the glue that holds his act together. It’s as though he makes a collection of all the diversities within his audience and then fires them back at us during the course of the show. As always, there was this one guy…. a big Sikh gentleman who tried to get some banter going with Mr Chowdhry but had had one too many Kingfishers to even remember his own name. Such a character was a mere sitting duck for Mr Chowdhry’s colourfully-languaged retorts.

Paul Chowdhry on CrimewatchAmongst the matters for discussion were how last year Social Media went overboard saying that a Crimewatch mugshot of a kidnap suspect was the spitting image of Paul Chowdhry, and how it dogged him online for months; the esteem in which he is held by his family for being 43 and unmarried; observations on Tinder and terrorism; and the vitriol of the online trolls who loathe him and want him dead. Mr Chowdhry is never one to shy away from a tricky subject, and he treats us to a session on how he fights fire with fire when it comes to trolls. An evening with him is not for the faint-hearted or over-sensitive; it’s often uncomfortable and challenging comedy. For example, it’s been a long while since either of us heard the word “mongoloid” used in any context. If you’ve never seen him before, my advice is to take a leaf out of Lady Macbeth’s book and screw your courage to the sticking place before the show, if you’re used to any kind of gentility of language!

When Mrs Chrisparkle and I go to see a show, nine times out of ten we will generally agree on how good it was and how much we enjoyed it. Last night’s show, however, was the one in ten. Whilst I found myself carried away by Mr Chowdhry’s outrageous delivery and material, it left Mrs C cold. Maybe it was the change from the intimate venue to the large one that meant she didn’t feel so involved; maybe it was the unfortunate faffing around during the interval because of the tickets that put her off. Or maybe she didn’t feel there was quite enough material with which she felt comfortable. Whilst walking home, she did point out that he has a repetitive style of delivery which annoyed her; and it’s true, when he gets a good line, he’s quite likely to hammer it home four or five times to get maximum impact. I didn’t particularly notice it; but she did.

Paul Chowdhry on stageHowever, Mr Chowdhry did wander into one area of material that I didn’t appreciate – when he started to question depression. Maybe he was going somewhere with this but then got distracted, because, fortunately, he wandered out of that subject just as quickly as he wandered into it. But I know too many people who constantly fight depression on a daily basis to find this funny. No doubt it could be fuel for some intelligent and questioning comic material – but that didn’t happen last night. Still, that’s the thing with Paul Chowdhry – I’m sure the topics earmarked for each show are merely serving suggestions in his mind and he will always go where the audience takes him, handing out good natured abuse to all and sundry, ridiculing every Dave, Tracey and Rajesh who comes his way. As he says himself, he’s nothing if not an Equal Opportunities Offender.

At least one of us enjoyed the show! Live Innit continues its tour throughout the UK (and Australia and New Zealand) until June.

P. S. Thanks to the Box Office for sorting out last night’s ticket problems so promptly and graciously today. I can return to the Royal and Derngate with renewed confidence!