Review – A weekend at the Leicester Comedy Festival, 23rd – 24th February 2019

leicester-comedy-festival-logoThis was the third time that a bunch of us descended (well, I suppose, ascended, considering the direction of travel) on Leicester for the last weekend of their famous Comedy Festival. Mrs Chrisparkle and I played host to Lord and Lady Prosecco, Professor and Mrs Plum, and Prinz Mark von Köln. Sadly Lord Liverpool was indisposed due to ill health, so he was tucked up in bed whilst the Countess of Cockfosters peeled him grapes. However, the remaining Magnificent Seven were greeted by beautiful sunshine and a light lunch at Pret a Manger, before heading into our first show.

Ban*na C*nts, (Work in Progress), Sian Docksey and Zoe Tomalin, Heroes @ Apres Lounge, 1pm 23rd February

Banana CvntsSian Docksey and Zoe Tomalin are two lively and welcoming young ladies who admit straight off that they made a mistake with the marketing. If you Google the title of their show (rest assured I have not done so, gentle reader) then you might expect you were going to see something completely different. Instead of plantain porn, we got 25 minutes or so in the company of each comic, giving us some work in progress to see how it landed.

On the whole, it landed very well. The best of the material came from Ms Docksey’s inspired consideration about the relationships between the chess pieces; I shan’t spoil it for you, but we were all hooting with laughter. There’s also a nice sequence where, in an attempt to redress the inequalities of the sexes in the workplace, men’s leadership meetings have been replaced with followship sessions. Needs a tiny bit of work, but it’s a great idea. I also loved the idea that being bisexual could be considered gay of centre.

Ms Tomalin created a lot of humour from her diminutive stature, and had a promising sequence about bra sizing, which I hope she develops (please don’t take that the wrong way.) Together they form an enjoyable partnership, although they work apart more than they work together. A very enjoyable way to start the day – in a Swiss Chalet in Leicester High Street. (No, honestly.)

Roisin and Chiara, Back to Back, Heroes @ Apres Lounge, 2.20pm 23rd February.

Roisin and ChiaraNext up – and in the same Swiss Chalet, with building work noise thumping away in the background, were Roisin O’Mahony and Chiara Goldsmith with their Edinburgh show from last year, Back to Back. I had read some reviews and had advised the group that sitting in the front row was probably not a good idea for this show. However, there’s absolutely no point trying to hide from these two ladies as they scour the entire audience for their prey no matter where you sit.

Prey sounds a bit cruel; it isn’t cruel at all, in fact it’s absolutely brilliant. Hugely confident, and with terrific strange presence, they present an hour of total anarchy and it’s a completely beautiful thing. Welcoming us into their lofty chalet, they assess us like two weirdos over the garden fence; then they discuss their own relationships; Roisin becomes a wolf; they stuff their mouths with marshmallows, and straddled Stephen from the fourth row (I told you there was no hiding place). Even Professor Plum had a young lady perched on his knee for some of the show. They have a range of wacky characters and voices that they adopt throughout the hour; most of it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever but who cares, it’s a sheer delight to wallow in it. We all loved them, and I’d very happily seek them out in future shows.

Then it was time to check-in at the Mercure Grand, our usual city centre abode, to enjoy a short pause and some private regrouping before meeting again for the rest of the day’s programme.

Henry Paker, Man Alive, The Cookie, 5pm 23rd February

Henry PakerI’d never heard of Mr Paker but we took a look at his reviews and thought this sounded a safe bet. Boy, were we right. Man Alive is the show he took to Edinburgh last summer, and is a beautifully structured, cleverly created combination of his skills as a stand-up comic, talking about married life and life in general, and his skills as a designer and illustrator.

Running through his routine as a unifying thread is a cartoon story about David, his clocks and how he’d spend his time with Nobody – it’s charming, funny and revealing. But I particularly enjoyed his material about middle class angst; deciding which is the most middle-class word in the English Language – I won’t spoil it for you, but he’s completely right and I spent the rest of the weekend self-consciously saying it to annoy the rest of our party. Amongst the rest of his material, he has some great sequences about how, although it’s lovely to spend time with his wife, it’s even lovelier to spend time without her.

He has a very relaxed and measured delivery and he’s not at all scared of leaving the occasional pause or silence, which is a mark of someone who is completely in control of their material. The hour flew by and we all agreed he is someone we have to see again!

Just the Tonic’s Saturday Night Comedy Club – Special Guest Compere, Hansom Hall, 8.30pm 23rd February

Saturday SpecialsAfter a delicious dinner at the Kayal Indian Restaurant, we took a step back to two years ago when we saw Johnny Vegas compere a brilliant night of comedy at the Hansom Hall. He was creative, anarchic, unpredictable and a complete comedy genius. We’ll have to have another helping of that, we said. But sometimes, the old saying goes, don’t go back a second time, because you might be disappointed. And that, sadly, was the truth, gentle reader. The idea behind the presentation of this year’s special was that it would be “tag team” compering, between Johnny Vegas and Just the Tonic supremo, Darrell Martin. In practice, that meant that Johnny would do the majority of the compering and Darrell would step in when Johnny was just getting too out of hand. As a concept, it didn’t really work, because Johnny’s faithful followers didn’t want Darrell interrupting, and the bickering between the two presenters – even if it was faux-aggressive – came over as genuinely acrimonious, and not conducive to humour.

However, the big problem was that Johnny and Darrell had spent the afternoon in the pub and Johnny was distinctly worse for wear. Those creative flights of fancy from two years ago were snuffed out and replaced by uninteresting self-indulgence, and it became apparent pretty early on that this was not going to be the highlight of the weekend that we had hoped for. Indeed, someone heckled Johnny Vegas to the effect that they’d wasted their £15 for a ticket (which, to be fair, is toppy for the Festival, although not for a 150 minute show), and I couldn’t help but agree with him.

It was a shame because it put a dampener on the superb guest line-up. First up was Tez Ilyas, one of my favourite comic performers; because JV hadn’t got too out of hand by that stage, he was probably least affected of all the guests. Mr I gave us a lot of material that he has used before, but it’s ok because it’s so funny and he always does it with such a knowing twinkle in his eye. I loved his new definition of scoring 10 on the “I approve of ISIS scale”.

A new name, who was given a ten-minute slot to impress, was Matt Bragg; and I have to agree with everyone else, he is definitely One to Watch. Self-effacing, effortless, quirky and with some original material, he was a breath of fresh air and I would have loved to see more of his stuff and less from Mr Vegas. Another familiar performer was Jonny Awsum; always reliable with his musical comedy, although again with material that we have seen a number of times. Because his comedy can come across as quite silly and childlike, it felt wrong that he littered his set with lots of bad language – I’ve seen him perform before with no swearing and he’s funnier that way.

With a high reputation, and the last guests on, came The Noise Next Door, an improvisation group of four performers who act out sketches and sequences at the whim of whatever the audience chooses to chuck at them. They were excellent and we would happily see more of them another time too. The Lithuanian sketch was particularly brilliant, although that’s partially because of some inspired audience participation.

We left before seeing JV wind up the show so that we could get to our final venue on time.

Late Night Jokes On Us, Manhattan Bar, 11.30pm 23rd February

Jokes on usWe really enjoyed this late night show last year so thought we’d try it this year too. Again, it didn’t quite come up to the standard of 2018, but there was still much to enjoy. Hard-working and upbeat host Alex Hylton introduced us to five acts, none of whom we had seen before.

First up, Rob Mulholland is, literally, a giant of comedy and I could see why he has such a great reputation. Full of fun and good-hearted attack, he had some enjoyable material and an excellent stage presence. Next was Lovdev Barpaga, whom we nearly saw in Edinburgh last year – but didn’t quite. He was crowned UK Pun Champion in 2017 and I can see why. His show is called Pun-Jabi, and he gave us ten minutes of puntastic hysteria. Really funny material and a very likeable guy.

Next was a comic whose name I didn’t properly catch, but I believe his first name was Rahul. He started promisingly, but then gave us some material based on the fact that he has a lisp; and once he’d done that, all we could hear was his lisp and not his material. As he realised the laughs weren’t flowing, he allowed himself to lose confidence, and, I’m afraid, it ended up as a pretty painful onstage death. Shame, as I’m sure he has the basis of a good act there. My advice, ignore the lisp!

Last two comics were Adam Beardsmore, who also had a very assertive and strong stage presence, with some good material; and Jack Topher, who rounded the evening off very well, but I have to confess late-night tiredness had set in and I can’t remember that much of what happened. He was good though!

The next morning we were all a bit tired because not only had we had something of a late night, but also a 6.40am fire alarm got us all scuttling out of bed and scrambling on a few clothes so that we stood in the hotel car park for about forty five minutes. No fire, but lots of firemen, which was reassuring.

Anita Elizabeth Holmes Presents, Upstairs at Kayal Restaurant, 2pm 24th February

AEHThat’s a thoroughly useless title for a sequence of comedy shows at the festival because you haven’t got a clue who you’re going to see. In fact, we spent an hour with two excellent Welsh comics.

First up was Lorna Pritchard, an ex-news reporter on Welsh TV, now full-time comedian, who struck up an excellent rapport with the audience with her cheery disposition and likeable presence. Having established that the majority of the audience either came from, or had a significant attachment to, Liverpool, she proceeded to tell one of the best jokes of the weekend about the Scouse bouncer who watched her reverse her bumper into another parked car. Very enjoyable, frothy, pleasantly undemanding humour.

The second act was Drew Taylor, a large, lugubrious presence, who told his anecdotes about life in Wales with a very strong accent to which I couldn’t always quite attune myself. But his material is excellent, and his slow and sure delivery adds to that slight caricature of a dour Welsh comic. Again, very enjoyable, and lots of laughs.

Kevin Precious, Unholier than Thou, Upstairs at Kayal Restaurant, 3.20pm 24th February

Kevin PreciousNext up – and what a find! Subtitled The Non-Believing Religious Studies Teacher, Kevin Precious takes us through life as an agnostic trying to steer his school pupils through the intricacies of comparative religion; and it’s comedy genius. From the disruptions of unwilling students, to the complex expectations of parents, it’s a fascinating insight into being simply the wrong person for the job. Mr Precious has a brilliant style of delivery; very active and energetic, with some hilarious characterisations and a superb, step-by-step dismemberment of organised religion. Now a humanist, he has a much more enlightened understanding of the world around us. I loved his excellent take on the how miracles might be considered to happen; and his general desire for empirical proof over superstition is the source for a lot of great material. Definitely One to Watch.

After a little afternoon coffee and cake it was time for our final show.

Eshaan Akbar, Prophet while it’s Hot, The Cosy Club, 6pm 24th February

Eshaan AkbarWe’d seen Mr Akbar supporting Dane Baptiste in Northampton a couple of years ago, so I knew he had a great comic delivery and lovely ability to take the Mickey out of himself. This is his Edinburgh show of last summer, where he basically deconstructs the content of the Quran and reveals himself to be as much an infidel as the rest of us. Taking us through some of the most important passages of the Holy Text, and the advice of the Five Pillars of Islam, he creates a hilarious blitz of the faith. Nevertheless, he also emphasises all its kindly, loving aspects, which he highlights with the hilarious account of burying his mother – he agrees, it shouldn’t really be a source for comedy, but it really is. In fact, we found a lot of his personal accounts very moving. He was a little unsure of the presence of a couple of distinctly middle-aged Muslims in the front row, whom he nicknamed Uncle and Auntie –– but they were loving it like the rest of us. An excellent, enlightening and informative show, and a terrific way to end our weekend. We’ll be back next year!

Review – A weekend at the Leicester Comedy Festival, 24th – 25th February 2018

leicester-comedy-festival-logoThis is the second year that a bunch of us have come up to Leicester for the last weekend of the Comedy Festival. So it’s not quite yet a tradition – but I could see how it could easily become one. Mrs Chrisparkle and I played host to the great and the good of the family – Lord and Lady Prosecco, Professor and Mrs Plum, Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters. We scheduled five shows for Saturday, two for the Sunday, with the promise of an early release on Sunday afternoon if we behaved ourselves. Let’s take them one by one.

It’s me Kat Bond come home now, so cold (A Work-In-Progress), Heroes @ The Criterion, 1pm, 24th February

Kat BondOur first show of Saturday was to see Kat Bond do a work-in-progress show entitled It’s Me Kat Bond come home now, so cold. What would that title suggest to you, gentle reader? Something Kate Bush-related? Wuthering from a great height, perhaps? But no. Instead we find ourselves welcomed into an unexpected therapy session, where Ms Bond dispensed brief snippets of helpful advice where angels would otherwise definitely fear to tread. Ms Bond was new to Mrs C and me; although I knew she had a successful show in Edinburgh last year involving toilet paper. That show seemed to divide the critics, which is probably a good thing. After I’d booked the tickets I discovered The Scotsman had given her this damning review: “Some comics have a gift for spinning gold from meaningless nonsense. Kat Bond isn’t one of them.”

Well, I have to say, The Scotsman simply got it wrong. Ms Bond is a naturally funny person right down to her fingertips and this was an extremely inventive 45 minutes. Plenty of audience participation, and it doesn’t matter where you sit – hide in the back row, she’ll still get you. Among the highlights within our party were Mrs C providing percussion, the Countess being mimicked, the Professor having his problems attributed to a baby milk fetish, and Lord Prosecco being asked to fashion a work of art out of a piece of squidgy stuff that covered his hands with red gunk which took ages to remove – Ms Bond might have to work on that particular prop. We laughed the entire time – right from the opening moments where the audience give her the nouns that create her character’s backstory, to her rolling around on a parachute (and yes it was a small stage) and her final assessment of how our therapy session had worked (or not). Very enjoyable, and a name definitely worth watching out for.

Diane Spencer 2018 Collection, The Cookie, 3.30pm, 24th February

Diane SpencerOur next show was to see someone that Mrs C and I have seen twice before and enjoyed very much both times – Diane Spencer. The last time we bumped into her, she was handing out flyers in Edinburgh. I apologised that we wouldn’t be able to see her show that time round, but that we’d seen her before in Screaming Blue Murder shows in Northampton and really enjoyed her gigs. And you’ve never seen someone beam with such gratitude in your life. Maybe she doesn’t often get good reviews?

This time she’s giving us her 2018 Collection, as though she were some fashion designer with an exclusive catwalk show. And why not? But you wouldn’t describe it as an haute couture collection, more a mass of neuroses involving all walks of her life. She’s now married (whoop), to Kevin, who doesn’t (yet) drink but has married into a family of alcoholics so that’s the designated driver sorted. Ms Spencer gives us the lowdown on their first Christmas together – spent at her parents – with loads of comic observations about dealing with families, saying the wrong thing, plus fainting in the bathroom, accusing a child of autism and the joys of MDMA (which I always thought was a decent alternative to plasterboard).

Personally, I could watch her for hours. She has a wonderfully posh goofy persona which she uses to great shock advantage when she occasionally drops some really filthy nuggets of comedy. She is supremely confident on the stage and you never for one moment fear that anything will go wrong. And even when it does, her quick wit and mental database of filler material comes into play so perfectly that any tangents are just as funny as her planned material. I’m guessing this was a work-in-progress show, but you wouldn’t know as she’s such a proficient practitioner of the art of stand up.

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre – the new show, Kayal Upstairs, 6.50pm, 24th February

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet TheatreWe walked to the Kayal Restaurant for a fabulous Indian meal (highly recommended) which also happened to be the venue (well, their upstairs room) for the next show. I’ve seen the listings for the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre every time we’ve been to Edinburgh but for some reason it’s never quite tempted me in. But on Saturday, the time and the place were right to take a punt on some puppetry madness. In the past they’ve performed Socks Do Shakespeare, Socks in Space, Minging Detectives and other delights, but the title for this year’s show was revealed on the night to be… well we never quite worked out what the title was, but it was definitely based on Super Heroes.

When you walk into the room to watch their show, a little puppet theatre has already been set up on the podium and it looks for all the world as though you’re going to see an end of the pier traditional Punch and Judy show. But whereas Punch and Judy has a number of characters, who all feel the terminal wrath of Mr Punch, the Sock Puppet theatre has just two characters, who take turns to assume various disguises throughout the show – and, inventive though they may be, they’re fooling nobody.

They’ve clearly built up a cult following, many of whom were in the audience and loved every minute. For my own part, I really enjoyed the opening sequence and getting to know the rather bitchy and petulant characters behind the sock puppets, but after a while it began to pall. The show is absolutely packed with material, but it’s all delivered in that same falsetto voice; and an hour of that was too much for me. I wasn’t the only member of our party to nod off – in fact I think there was about a 50% snooze factor. I wanted to like this much more than I did because it’s such an inventive concept, and a huge amount of work has gone into it. But I’m afraid it didn’t do it for me.

Darren Walsh: Massive Punt, Peter Pizzeria – Violin Room, 8.30pm, 24th February

darren walshI’ve seen Darren Walsh a couple of times before, guesting on other people’s shows and he’s always tickled my fancy with his relentless stream of puns and his ability to make up a joke out of any subject shouted out from the audience. No wonder he won the Best Joke of the Edinburgh Fringe award in 2015. In this latest show, the both self-deprecatingly and vainly titled Massive Punt, he constructs another series of puns of all genres. Elaborate, inventive, cringeworthy, puerile; he’s totally cornered the market.

The structure of the show is that he’s an airline captain taking us on a tour of the world, and for every country, there’s a pun. In addition to this, he has a range of visual and pictorial gags, some comedy Twitter responses, and plenty of audience participation, so if you sit in the front row, please do be prepared to play along – a few of the front row on Saturday night clearly saw it as their challenge to upstage Mr W which didn’t really help the show bounce along.

The show relies on a huge amount of pre-prepared material – including (apparently) flying to several countries to film just a tiny comedy snippet – and it’s vital that the timing of his interaction with the images on the projection screen is spot-on. Fortunately it is, so that works very well. It’s all very silly, but all very clever and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Mr W always comes across as a really likeable guy, which gives you the confidence to wince at the winceable jokes safe in the knowledge he’s unlikely to get his own back on you – just expect another teeth-grating pun to be volleyed your way. I get the feeling he just likes to see our reactions, whether or not we find them funny! Very enjoyable – it’s like one long party trick and he’s the host who’s always got one more gag up his sleeve.

Late Night Jokes On Us, Manhattan 34 – Downstairs Bar, 11pm, 24th February

Jokes on UsWe popped back to the hotel for a glass of wine before seven of us braved the last show of the evening – Lady Prosecco wandered off, muttering something about Match of the Day and Pinot Grigio. Once you’re back in the hotel it’s easy to feel all comfy and cosy – it was a very cold day on Saturday – but kudos to those hardy souls who braved the icy blast of the five minute walk to the Manhattan 34 bar for a Late Night Jokes On Us show. It’s one of those free to get in, but not to get out, variety compilation nights where a host (in this case Alex Hylton) introduces other acts from around the festival for an hour of unpredictable, unplanned and thoroughly badly behaved comedy.

Alex Hylton 1I don’t think any of us had any great expectations of this show – but how wrong we were! We were all crammed into the second row from the front, and with an average age of (I think) 63, Mr Hylton decided to call us Age UK on a Day Trip, which we have now adopted as our Facebook Group name. When he asked us how we knew each other, the Countess offered up the fact that we were all family members together with assorted wives. Mr Hylton just heard “Saucy wives” so for the rest of the evening (and maybe for the rest of their lives) the Countess was Saucy Wife No 1 and Mrs C was Saucy Wife No 2. I must say Mr H was a brilliant compere and we’d love to see him do more of his own act sometime soon.

Mickey SharmaWe had five acts doing roughly ten minutes each, starting off with the excellent Mickey Sharma, whom we saw at an Upfront Comedy night last year. I think Mr Sharma was a little tired and emotional, having just done his own show, and, alarmed at the prospect of performing to many of the same audience again, had to think on his feet for new material. However, we did love his routine about traffic in India, including the two motorcyclists transporting a wardrobe. Totally stupid; and if you’ve seen Indian traffic, totally believable.

Dan Nicholas upside downNext up was Dan Nicholas; new to us, and with a thoroughly silly but funny style to him. He encouraged audience participation simply by waving his hands about – it’s actually funnier than it sounds. Then he got Front Row Mike to do the same – and it took a while before he got the drift, but then he cracked it. I don’t know if I’d had one too many by then, but my other memory of his act is his getting the entire audience to sing a simple song, just containing the word “Mike”. A thoroughly inventive and curious performer, I really enjoyed his session!

Alex BlackThen we had Alex Black – again (and indeed like everyone else on the rest of the bill) new to us, but what a talent! Excellent, creative material, that really had us in hysterics. Armed with a ukelele, he did some Police/Smiths mashups, and who knew how well the Smiths and George Formby worked together? You’ll never hear Leaning on a Lamppost in the same way ever again.

Rob ColemanNext up was Rob Coleman, a slightly more mature gentleman with manic hair and a gruff and grumpy expression. He trades on his eccentric looks – he’s a bit like a comic Einstein – and much of his material is based on the difference between how he looks and how irresistible he is to women. However, the women in our group found him strangely resistible; talk of his small willy didn’t help his cause and for some reason his ten minutes didn’t quite work for us.

Friz FrizzleOur last act of the show, and of the day, was Friz Frizzle, self-described Song Ruiner, and he was absolutely hilarious. Happily plinky-plonking on his Bontempi, he gives new lyrics to well known songs – frequently surprising you with a perfectly punning title, just when your brain is racing against his, to get to the title first. But there are all sorts of ways in which you can ruin a song and he’s an absolute master of the art. I loved his versions of Chic’s Le Freak, Prince’s Purple Rain, and OMC’s How Bizarre, which Front Row Craig really didn’t understand; I’m still not sure he did, even after Mr Frizzle had repeated the punchline at least twenty times to him. His George Formby material is brilliant; but you’d have to go a long way to get a better comedy song than his paean to Rolf Harris to the tune of A Town Called Malice. Sadly I was the wrong age to get the joke of the song that he performed at the end of his routine – rather enfuriatingly all the younger people were singing along to it, grrrr. But it was a fantastic end to a hugely entertaining show that we all loved.

And that was it for one long day. It was now time to troop back to the hotel and sleep the deep sleep of the innocent. My intentions of getting a kebab and a few pints on the way came to nothing.

Kwame Asante: Work in Progress, Kayal Upstairs, 2pm, 25th February

Kwame AsanteAfter a lavish breakfast and a little retail therapy, we returned to the Kayal Upstairs for their Sunday afternoon programme. First up was Kwame Asante with a Work in Progress show. Mr Asante (or should I say Dr) has been juggling the balls of being both a stand-up comic and a Junior Doctor for a few years now and frankly I’ve no idea how he finds the time to do both. I’d heard about this chap a few times but never seen him, so thought it was about time we saw what he was all about.

He has a very different style from all the other comics that we saw that weekend; he’s very sincere, very gentle, very eager to please, and keen not to mislead or disappoint. He said from the start that his new show would be about him and his childhood and particularly in relation to how he was obese as a youngster and young man; and exploring the effects that it had on him. No fat-shaming, no cruelty. We’ve seen a few comics over the years who use their comedy as a method of therapy, and I think Dr A might come under that heading. However, to be honest, I thought it would have more material about his overweight years than it actually did; the majority was simply about his life as a doctor.

He had a few great routines, about how he feels when he loses a patient, the strange ways in which he encounters racism, the lies spun to him by his grandma in Ghana, and an enjoyable sequence about the worst things geriatric patients have said to him. His performance split our group; some felt he came over as so vulnerable, that they found him more sad than funny. True, he does have a vulnerability to him, but I simply thought that was an interesting insight into how he handles his two jobs. He’s not a wham bam thank you man kind of comic, his is more a slow burning story-telling style which I really enjoyed. This was the very first preview of his new show, so unsurprisingly it will need quite a bit of shaping up, but that’s what WIP is all about!

Alfie Moore: ‘It’s a Fair Cop’ Work in Progress, Kayal Upstairs, 3.20pm, 25th February

Alfie MooreWe’ve been looking forward to this final show of the weekend because we saw Alfie Moore at one of the Screaming Blue Murder shows in Northampton many years ago and he was absolutely brilliant. If you ever wondered how much comedy material you could get out of policing… well it’s a lot! He now has his Radio 4 programmes, of which several of our party are fans – I confess I haven’t heard them – and this work in progress show was structured to go through the first draft of a script for one of these shows, to see what should stay and what should go.

The subject of this particular show was a hard-hitter: sexual misconduct. As the audience, and the equivalent to the studio audience during the recording of the radio show, we were required to participate in a “judge and jury” style, giving our instinctive reaction to whether a crime had been committed, whether the perpetrator should be arrested, and so on. It was actually a really fascinating experience from a crime perspective, let alone any comedy! But, as Alfie Moore was in charge, he made it extremely funny. He gave us some great incidental material, including the amazing story of the gentleman who decided to make love to a car exhaust, and the legality (or otherwise) of being a foot fetishist and working in a shoe shop.

I love Mr Moore’s delivery style; it’s unpredictably both brash and subtle, and he’s another of these incredibly quick-witted performers, who can drop a killer punchline, sotto voce, when you’re not expecting it. His unique knowledge of the police force gives him a truly special place in the current comedy circuit and you know he’ll always startle you with his insights and experience.

We could have stayed for more comedy, but I heard the siren call of the A5199. We all enjoyed a really rewarding and, moreover, funny weekend, and I can’t wait for next year’s return visit!

Review – Just The Tonic Comedy Club with Johnny Vegas, Leicester Comedy Festival, Hansom Hall, Leicester, 25th February 2017

johnny-vegasFor our final splurge on Comedy Saturday we thought we’d go for broke and see Johnny Vegas fronting a Comedy Club special, with him as the compere and three or four acts all doing their own thing. None of us had ever seen Johnny Vegas live before and didn’t know quite what to expect. I’d seen him on TV of course – guesting on panel shows, being one of the best things about Benidorm, and playing a surprisingly effective self-combustible Krook in the BBC’s Bleak House 12 years ago. I don’t think I was prepared for someone so eloquent, creative, unpredictable and thoroughly naughty as he proved himself to be on Saturday night!

kevin-dHe told us that he’d already done an earlier show – not compering but proper stand-up – which had gone off at a tangent because of one particular audience member, but which hadn’t really gone well because the audience didn’t come with him on his flights of fancy. That must be a really awkward situation; because just ten minutes in the company of Mr Vegas tells you that flights of fancy are the order of the day, and any pre-prepared material is probably there just as a backup if all else fails. He’d barely been on a few seconds when he started picking his way through the front row looking for suitable quarry – and there were two guys. The first guy started to bat back the questions in that semi-confident, taciturn but I can handle this way; and then he caught sight of his mate. 99% of the audience didn’t get a look at this guy because we were all sitting behind him. But he obviously appealed to Mr Vegas’ sense of nurturing the oppressed, because this guy had obviously allowed himself to grow the most appalling, all-over-the-place apology for a beard, so that he looked a disgrace and Mr Vegas was not going to let him get away with it.

guz-khanWhilst this was not Mr Vegas’ only comic tack of the evening, everything did seem to revolve around Useless Beardy Guy. There was no end to the gentle humiliation heading his way during the course of the night, which grew in complexity and status as Mr Vegas ended up encouraging a member of the audience – a rather mouthy lady (perhaps not inappropriately) – to (and I quote) w*nk him off for £500. Others, not all of them with female voices, attempted to undercut this offer, but Mr Vegas wasn’t holding a Dutch Auction. After the next act, the original volunteer had slumped forward in her seat in a paralytic stupor** but Mr Vegas had made an onstage promise that the w*nking would take place. Naturally troubled by this, it culminated in Mr Vegas holding an uncomfortable phone call with his late-night lawyer, where he was concerned that he might now be contractually obliged to cause Beardy Guy to climax in his (Mr Vegas’) hand, in a council-run property (and he admitted sotto voce that he didn’t really want to) and would he need a licence for this? The whole thing was absolutely hilarious and I was shaking with laughter.

paul-mccaffreyIn amongst all that shenanigans Johnny Vegas introduced three special guests, all of whom were on absolutely top form. First up was Kevin Dewsbury, whom we have seen many times before, most recently about four hours earlier as the TV chef-cum-walking disaster in Kev’s Komedy Kitchen. Mr Dewsbury took us through his embarrassing St Patrick’s Day moment and his marvellous routine about enunciating foreign words perfectly – I’m so guilty of that myself. He had a whole load of new material as well, perfectly suiting his matey, blokey persona and he got a great reception from the audience. Our second guest was new to us, Guz Khan, still a teacher until two years ago. He is a real find, with a superbly confident stage presence (I bet his kids paid attention to his lessons) and great material that didn’t shy away from the tough subjects like ISIS and Morning Assembly. He absolutely aced the crowd. Our final act, also new to us, was Paul McCaffrey, with some great observations on the wisdom of the fitness guru who recommends replacing chocolate with raw veg, and, whilst on holiday, eschewing licking shots from a nymphette’s belly button in Ibiza in preference to playing cards on the balcony with the wife (“after all, we went to the pub last night…”)

heres-johnnyBut it really was Mr Vegas’ night. He has such a quick mind and the ability to winkle something humorously ridiculous from the most banal of situations. He’d have you believe he was raising money for some spurious charity, or that he needed to quickly nip backstage to check he hadn’t left a camp stove on whilst leaving Useless Beardy Guy singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for our amusement. He created a wonderful visual image of applying his backside to the TV screen during This Morning so that it looked like Piers Morgan was rimming him; and he had a battle with his braces, before the third act, causing slowly descending trousers, from which he produced tons of hilarious physical comedy. The next morning all six of us kept on remembering varied elements of his reckless night’s entertainment; it was officially fabulous. As was our entire Leicester Comedy Festival experience, and we’re hoping to make it an annual event, when we all return and throw ourselves at the festival for an entire weekend. Here’s to 2018!

**She said she was a teacher so Mr Vegas wondered if it was the SATs and not the alcohol that had sent her off to sleep.

P. S. I discovered later that Mr Vegas doesn’t really have a late-night lawyer with whom he can discuss such delicate topics – it was Kevin Dewsbury on the other end of the phone. I’m embarrassed to say though that it didn’t occur to me that this was a stunt; if anyone is going to have resort to a late-night Comedy Lawyers 4U contact it would be Johnny Vegas. He must need this kind of advice all the time.

P. P. S. The show started at 8.30pm and was due to finish at 10.30pm. Shortly before midnight you could see the promoter agitatedly standing near the stage trying to get Johnny Vegas’ attention so that he would wrap it all up. I did tell you he was unpredictable.

Review – Kev’s Komedy Kitchen, Leicester Comedy Festival, Hansom Hall, Leicester, 25th February 2017

kkkFor our second show on Comedy Saturday, Mrs Chrisparkle and I took the gang to see Kev’s Komedy Kitchen, a show we’d already seen in Edinburgh last summer, which we both found knock-out funny, and was in fact the recipient of last year’s Chrisparkle Award for Edinburgh Best of the Rest – which is rather a graceless title that I think I need to alter. It appears that this was probably the last ever performance of the show in this format, so any spoilers I reveal in this review, aren’t really.

Kev's Komedy KitchenYou’re greeted by Floor Manager Will who explains that it’s a recording of a TV show and warns us not to wave at the cameras. As if we would. He also advises us to laugh at anything Kev says that’s funny – or thinks is funny; and whilst happily reminiscing over Kev’s successful tours in the past, he reminds us not to mention 2012… as it wasn’t a good year. Naturally, the only person who mentions 2012 as the show progresses, is Will; but there is a limit to which even he can keep up that chirpy positivity when you’re dealing with a bunch of pensioners watching the recording of a show that is pure bumf, and featuring guests with the social graces of Sooty and Sweep but with none of their sense of humour. By the time the show’s started he’s already dissed Kev for attracting nothing like the number of punters as Stephen Bailey had the previous night, and as for that Romesh Ranganathan….

kevin-dI digress (like he did). Will’s introductory speech totally sets the scene for what’s to come. Even before we’ve met Kev we know a) he’s not as funny as he thinks he is, and b) his life and career had a big tumble which he hasn’t come to terms with. You just know that during the course of the next hour we’re going to see this guy start to (apple) crumble and watch his career go down the (hot) pan. If that sounds rather sad – well, it is! But that’s the strength of the show: watching Kev kling to the wreckage as his guest celebrity turns out to be po-faced, patronising and thick as two short fish fingers, as his guest comic gets more laughs than he does, thus building up Kev’s resentment against him, and as his high-flying guest chef lets him down at the last minute to be replaced by Marco Pierre Shite. It is the comedy of cruelty, played straight to emphasise the seriousness behind the laughter, but always with the accent on the comic rather than the cruel – until it descends into a semi-apocalyptic free-for-all at the end.

will-hutchbyRather like when I worked in Contracts Management for the local council, anything that could go wrong in the recording of Kev’s Komedy Kitchen, does go wrong. The pre-prepared meal for them to taste is inedible because Josh the assistant forgot to put the oven on, (or rather, in the case of Saturday’s performance, he says he did put the oven on, much to Will’s surprise – nicely handled, sir) the po-faced celebrity refuses to try any of the food, the celebrity chef’s cordon bleu creation is a Sainsbury’s Scotch Egg and the guest comic returns at the end to physically assault Kev for being such a knob.hannah-blakeley All the while Kev is progressively getting more and more inebriated as the po-faced celebrity refuses to sample the Chardonnay, which is really all the excuse he needs to gulp it all.

It’s a genuinely hilarious comic creation that, once started, is a crash course to oblivion for our Kev with no way out. mike-newellBeautiful performances from everyone, with Will Hutchby positively effervescent with enthusiasm until the sequence of disasters makes him tear his hair out, and Hannah Blakeley is spot on as the ghastly Grace Loretta, whose freakish Orwello ends up writhing all over the stage mad as a box of frogs. She had me at Halloumi (you had to be there). Mike Newall brings all the vibrant personality of Liam Gallagher on a downer to his dour celebrity chef, and, as the guest comic, Liam Pickford wiped the floor with his erudite gag about how a Southern fried chicken baguette mixes cuisines of two origins and therefore could be seen as cousins who might kiss at a Christening.liam-pickford He also wiped the floor with Kev once he’d slung him a few left hooks. Plus, of course, Kevin Dewsbury brilliant as the eponymous Kev, brave in the face of adversity, prickly when his professionalism is doubted, conducting hilariously awful interviews, pushing old puns to the limit and beautifully portraying that day in a person’s life when, as one disaster follows another after another, they just reach the conclusion: f*ck it.

As suspected, our fellow comedy-goers loved it too. Even though the original Komedy Kitchen has now gone to that great Aga in the sky, it will be back in a new format as The Second Cumin and I for one can’t wait to catch it in Edinburgh later this year!

Review – Lucy Pearman, WIP and a Cabbage, Leicester Comedy Festival, Heroes @ The Criterion, Leicester, 25th February 2017

a-cabbageHaving seen a motley collection of the great and the okay in Pick of the Fest and the unforgettable ultimate therapy performance by Mr Richard Gadd, we thought we’d give this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival a gala send-off by seeing three productions on the final Saturday. To make it go with a swing Mrs Chrisparkle and I were accompanied by Lady Duncansby and her butler Sir William as well as my noble Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters. Six Characters in search of Comic Relief, one might say.

I’d recognised Lucy Pearman’s name from the Edinburgh Fringe schedules but we didn’t see her show last summer. You can find some rather wry videos of her doing comic things online and I thought she would be worth a punt, if you’ll pardon the expression. WIP and a Cabbage, I’m sensing, was taking her show about a Cabbage (stay with me) and adding some WIP to it – but I’m not entirely sure. This description is all you need to know about the background to the show: ‘Traditionally, unmarried girls were sent into the veg garden to choose the ‘perfect’ cabbage’. Who knew?

lucy-pearmanLucy is the new maid who has to escape the clutches of the lascivious Lord Wynd and has three things that she must do: avoid kissing him, find the best cabbage, and make sure she doesn’t reveal her bad side. I know this for a fact, because she asked me to read these instructions out to her. It could have been worse; she got Lord Liverpool to hold up a piece of paper that read “New Maid” for ages and then made him sit on a collapsible chair. We always knew where she would find the best cabbage, because she handed it out at the beginning of the show; in feeble comparison, others, like my namesake Chris (fistbump), Lord Liverpool and a distinguished looking chap in the second row were all given (let’s not pretend to be proud) a Brussels Sprout each. How it shamed our manhoods.

I realise as I’m telling you all this, gentle reader, that probably none of it makes the remotest sense. However, the proof of the pudding in a comedy show is how much you laugh, and I have to say we all laughed an awful lot. Ms Pearman has a lovely stage presence and is a gifted comic and clown, using a sotto voce delivery that can reduce a grown man to pure humiliation. “I’m beginning to regret you” she quietly admitted, as I failed to keep up with her dictation, much to the amusement of everyone else. Having established earlier on if I could read (I could), she also found out I could write. “Show off, aren’t you” was her only response.

CabbageMs Pearman embodies gentle lunacy with a withering touch. She reminded me of what an extra member of Spymonkey might be like as she sprang from innocent maiden to red-raw monster and back again (you had to be there). Very assured with any curved balls the audience sent her way, it was forty minutes of pure silliness and I absolutely loved it. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for what she’s doing next. And next time, I’ll bring my own cabbage.

Review – Monkey See Monkey Do, Richard Gadd, Leicester Comedy Festival at The Cookie, Leicester, 22nd February 2017

richard-gaddTowards the end of Richard Gadd’s extraordinary hour long performance of Monkey See Monkey Do, he turns to the audience and asks if any of us had read up about the show beforehand. Only two people put their hands up. “Must have been a bit of a shock, I guess?” he asks, eliciting a half-embarrassed, half-relieved laughing response. I didn’t put my hand up, because I took his question literally; I hadn’t read about it, but I had heard about it on a personal recommendation from someone who said this was the best show they saw in Edinburgh last year. And that’s why Mrs Chrisparkle and I braved both the southern reaches of Storm Doris and nasty head colds to see the show in person.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. To take on extremely serious subject matter and weave it into a multimedia experience, led by Richard Gadd pounding away on his treadmill for the first 45 minutes or so, is some feat. There’s loads to laugh at; there’s loads to empathise with; there are some elements that might make you recoil in horror, depending on your own personal experiences. I normally try to avoid giving much away about the material used in a comedy show, but for this account to make any sense I really have to give the game away – so if you don’t want to read the ultimate in spoilers, please come back at the next blog post!

r-gaddFirst we see Mr Gadd being chased and hounded by a monkey. It’s his monkey. It represents his own, particular burden in life. We all have a monkey or two of our own, but for the most part he’s behind bars in a zoo and we rarely have to visit him. Mr Gadd’s monkey is, shall we say, a little more persistent. Next, we see him participating in the Man’s Man Contest – an imaginary battle between ultra blokey blokes, with the truly tough challenge of multitasking four really manly tasks against the clock. He rises to the challenge, performing the first three with adept shows of true strength and masculinity. The fourth task is to sing a really manly song, something heavy metallish (sorry I’m personally not manly enough to have recognised it), and, in (almost) fine tune, he multitasks successfully to the finishing line. But wait – a steward’s inquiry – and it’s revealed that he’s taken illegal substances to finish the quest – science proves that underlying that really manly song he’s also singing the chorus to YMCA. It’s a lovely spoof on the whole manly/masculinity/man’s man idea and its general ridiculousness is extremely funny.

But, as a stark comparison, there’s a harsh reality behind it all. Six or so years ago, Mr Gadd was drugged at a party, and knew nothing of what happened next until the next morning – when he realised he had been raped. No one’s laughing now. In a series of filmed meetings with an analyst, the truth about what happened and its effects on him are slowly revealed. In tandem with this, we see him out on his fitness run, constantly anxious that anything he does might betray his perceived lack of masculinity, because the rape has robbed him of his own definition of what masculinity is. Previously, he just used to be a man; now, he no longer knows what that means. He feels that every pair of eyes that notice him can see through him and know what he did (even though it was actually done to him). He used to like the person he was, but that person no longer exists. His sexuality was messed up by the assault; now his sexual orientation is all over the place – a daily voyage of discovery.

richard-gHe meets Justin, his best friend, on his run; but Justin doesn’t say hello back. There are all sorts of reasons why that might have been but, naturally, his anxieties dictate it must mean that he doesn’t like him anymore. He meets Hannah, his ex-girlfriend, but his anxieties mean he can’t hear what she is saying to him, only his own worries about how he is presenting himself to her. In a moment that revealed one of my own insecurities, there’s a brief but brilliant sequence about how you react when you know your WhatsApp message has been received but the recipient doesn’t reply back. The man’s a seething volcano of anxieties, yet it’s such a clever construct to make this whole experience funny whilst at the same time you see how totally debilitating it is for him.

Technically it’s a fascinating piece, with a very complex audio and visual plot that at times becomes a veritable fugue of conversations, pieces of music, animal noises and other sound effects; it’s like an orchestra playing a symphony of sounds with Mr Gadd as lead soloist coming in live with the most significant passages. Some of it is addressed directly to the audience, some of it to himself, some to the cast of acquaintances that he meets along the way. No matter which, it’s always arresting, and I found myself hanging on his every word for that additional clue that would piece together the jigsaw that is his troubled soul (his description).

Richard GaddIt goes without saying that this is a very brave performance; it’s about as self-revealing as one could imagine. We’ve seen a number of comedians perform shows that take their own depression and use it as an inspiration for a routine or who create a show as a catharsis for dealing with their own mental health issues – from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Dave Chawner and Damian Kingsley spring to mind. But you can’t call this stand-up, it’s more a multimedia confessional that never shies away from the damage that one event can do to a human being. At the end, Mr Gadd concludes that simply by talking about what happened you won’t kill the monkey but you’ll learn how the two of you can live together, and that’s the most excellent advice.

A show like no other – funny, moving, horrific, and with so many emotions in between. Mr Gadd’s just embarked on a tour with his monkey and they’re coming to a theatre near you. Go and see why he’s been nominated for a Chortle award for Best Show. Brilliant and unforgettable.

Review – Pick of the Fest, Leicester Comedy Festival, Curve Studio, Leicester, 10th February 2017

leicester-comedy-festival-logoI think we can all agree that festivals are fun. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Whether it’s something massive like Edinburgh, or something tiny like the Northampton Flash Festival, the idea is that you go and see shows that may be quite short (so you can see lots in a day), financed on a shoestring, possibly for low ticket prices, at no frills venues. We’d only dipped our toe into the Leicester Comedy Festival once before, three years ago when we were amongst a lucky few to see Kevin Dewsbury’s final outing (no pun intended) of his one man show Out Now, in a back room at the Belmont Hotel. For me that was what “festival” was all about – intimate and informal, with “backstage” just as clearly visible as “stage”.

And I wonder if that’s why last Friday’s Pick of the Fest show at the Leicester Curve Studio didn’t quite work for me as a whole. We’ve seen several productions at the Studio and I’ve always really liked it as a venue – especially when we sit in the front row, because you really feel at the heart of the action. But for this show we were seated in row I (no idea why we were so far back because I’m sure I booked the tickets on the first day they became available), and the stage seemed an awfully long way away (even though it wasn’t), and that comedy club atmosphere just didn’t reach as far back as our row. Perhaps the staging was too formal, too theatre-y, and insufficiently festival-y. It just didn’t feel very relaxed.

carly-smallmanThis is one of those “compilation” shows when a number of performers come along and do some material as a promotion for their own shows on elsewhere at the festival. It’s a tried and tested formula which works well – especially with our favourite Edinburgh comedy ritual, Spank. Our host was the ebullient Carly Smallman, whom we have seen many times before and is always good value. She excels at getting to know the front few rows and poking kindly fun at their weird little ways – never cruel, unless it’s against herself, when she can indulge in devastating self-deprecation. Carly has two more shows in the festival coming up on the 17th February and the 26th February.

elf-lyons-2Our first act was someone completely new to us – Elf Lyons. She comes across as a posh girl obsessed with how she interacts with her even posher mother, who, I think we can all agree, sounds a bit of a nightmare. I enjoyed her act and she had lots of good material, although I confess I didn’t always catch all the punchlines – because I was sitting too far away, I expect. She gave us twenty minutes or so of neurotic insecurities and built up a nice rapport with the audience. Her show, Pelican, was on later that night, so if you missed it, you missed it. However, you can see what other shows she’s doing here.

paul-sinhaOur next act was an old favourite – and I hope he’ll forgive the use of the word “old”. It’s Paul Sinha, whom we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder shows before and he’s always a joy. I’d forgotten quite how dour and laconic his delivery can be; it’s almost as though the backstory to every line he says is “I know I’m a failure, but I’m surviving nonetheless”. He tells of the trials and tribulations of being a gay British Asian man who doesn’t bake, and how thrilled his parents were when he gave up his medical career to follow comedy. His material is both funny and telling in the way it challenges preconceptions and stereotypes. Of course, he has a lot to say about his appearances on TV’s The Chase; but I preferred his general observations of life, including discovering the best App to meet Asian men, and his alarming but hilarious account of being out on the loose in Barnsley. He’s a top class comic and he has a new work in progress show at the festival on Saturday 18th February.

Dane BaptisteIf Paul Sinha’s an old favourite, our next act, after the interval, was a new favourite – Dane Baptiste, whose Reasonable Doubts show we saw last year and really loved. I’m completely taken in by his slightly reserved, slightly authoritarian, slightly controlling style; the emphasis of his act is on quiet observation and making ridiculous contrasts, like when he is jealous of girls for having “gay best friends”, and wishes he could have a “lesbian best friend” as well. He, too, can make you challenge yourself on your preconceptions, and his humour also appeals to your own sense of intelligence – which it’s always nice to recognise. I can’t recall many of the ins and outs of his routine, I just let them wash over me. I’m sure he’s going to be a really big star one day. His Work in Progress show took place last Saturday, but he’s doing many more gigs over the next few weeks as you can see here.

Josh HowieOur final act is someone we’ve seen twice at Screaming Blue Murder clubs and both times I’m afraid I can’t pretend to have enjoyed his act much. This is Josh Howie – and there’s something about him that brings out the politically correct in me, as I bridle at his material that challenges the PC brigade. So if you like your comedy un-PC, you’ll probably love him. In fact, I was enjoying his routine (up to a point) until he started his material about hoping that his two-year-old son won’t turn out to be gay. And if he is gay, he’ll tell him how it’s particularly wrong to be a bottom. In fact, he’ll watch porn videos with him in order to point out which sex practices and roles are acceptable, and which aren’t. I know this is a ridiculous subject, and one which he hopes will be funny; and, to be honest, I wish I liked him more, but I found him borderline homophobic and, anyway, I just don’t get humour that hates people. His solo show was on the previous night, so again if you want to catch him, he still has some dates elsewhere on his UK tour.

So something of a mixed bag for our first venture into this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival, but I have very high hopes for the four shows we’re still to see… watch this space!