Review: Knock2Bag, Shepherds Bush

With Idiots Of Ants, Tim Key and more...

One of the increasing number of London comedy nights that put sketch and character comedy on a par with stand-up, the awkwardly named Knock2Bag comedy club has a monthly residency in Bar FM, a comfortable and well-designed basement bar just down the road from Television Centre, so attracts more than its share of BBC employees.

Tonight, the near-capacity audience got quite a treat – at least until… well, more on that later.

Compere Nick Helm has an unusual – and not entirely successful – approach to his MC’s duties. His act involves barking out wilfully appalling jokes in his growly rasp of a voice, then selling with them with an enthusiasm that’s entirely undeserved, but childishly appealing. However, taking that same loud, brusque approach to audience interaction proved more intimidating than engaging, and the reluctance to join in his shouted catchphrases and stilted banter was palpable.

Luckily How Not To Live Your Life star Dan Clark was on hand to do his own, more welcoming, warm-up. Effortlessly inviting, he genuinely engages with the audience rather than yelling at them, building a natural rapport as he drifts seamlessly between unaffected banter and material. It may not be the most challenging set, nor boast the punchiest gags, but it’s a warmly witty collection of observations that are well-made and skilfully exploited.

His personality is his biggest asset; he first appears the epitome of laid-back metrosexual cool, but it’s laced with a disarmingly self-effacing wit that only enhancing his underplayed charisma. It would be a hard heart not to warm to this charming man, and he didn’t break a sweat in getting the crowd chuckling throughout.

Following the theme of impenetrable names, the newish sketch quartet Delete The Banjax followed the first interval with a dynamic display of infectiously fast-paced comedy that skilfully blends manic physicality, entertaining musical numbers and some refreshingly offbeat writing. Their inspirations are occasionally mainstream – the horrors of shopping in Ikea, for example – but it’s the verve with which they pull off each scene that easily wins over the audience, combined with a keen inventiveness. Pulling off such an over-the-top boisterous performance without sacrificing subtlety is a difficult trick to pull off, but Caroline Jones, Gareth Cooper, Daniel Cook and Samuel Champion, do so impressively. A foursome to follow, most definitely.

Next up, Adam Riches reprised his most successful character, Victor Legit, a renegade warrior in the brutal war against DVD piracy. Imagine one of The Professionals let loose in the Federation Against Copyright Theft, and you have the idea of this flawed tough-guy on a mission.

Despite some obvious comedy touches – such as his desperate addiction to Yakult – the character is nuanced, believable and perfectly performed. Riches has plenty of strong lines which brilliantly exploit the character’s posturing, while his own quick thinking is put to good use first in a couple of ad libs, and more substantially when he bringing on an inevitably reluctant audience member to train up in the ways of the video pirate’s worst nightmare. This is far more entertaining than any knock-off DVD.

Ending an incredibly strong section came the brilliantly assured sketches of Idiots Of Ants, who, as is now well-documented, got their unusual name from a corruption of ‘idiots sauvants’. All four of these impressive twentysomethings are strong, slick performers – yet they also pay as much attention to the script as they do to their acting.

Tonight, we were treated to some of their greatest hits: the new fathers being trained in ‘dad jokes’, the invention of the motorcar being received with amusing childishness, and the lads upset at being usurped by a baby. All take relatively simple ideas, yet tease out joke upon joke from them, without quite bleeding the concept dry. This is never more so that in their scene in which four girls wake up after a hen night to discover that they’ve drunkenly had a sex-change operation: an irony-laden sketch which playfully has the women in the audience alternately booing or nodding in agreement as they niggle away at some gender stereotypes.

All these scenes – with the possible exception of their Where’s Wally? one-joke weak link – have the potential to be future classics, and the hard-working Idiots have them all down to a T.

Brian Gittins has a residency at Knock2Bag, giving him the chance to showcase some new material, which has the same appeal and flaws in equal measure as his more practised stuff. He’s Britain’s answer to Neil Hamburger, the awkward anti-comic whose routine is a combination of overly convoluted set-ups, lame payoffs, a few genuinely funny one-liners and distracted non-sequiturs.

His whole ethos is to be a shambles: stumbling with the microphone, laughing nervously to fill uncomfortable silences and grinning inanely at the audience when he seems short of ideas. It’s a mixed bag of the inspired and the inane, often embarrassing but sporadically hilarious; both sides of the acts seeming to need each other to survive.

Tonight, he played down the back story of his character as a roadside café owner trying to break into showbiz – perhaps sensibly now Dan Renton Skinner has become widely known for his similar Angelos Epithemiou character on Shooting Stars – and simply got on with the cheesy, misguided entertainment. As is his wont, he ended with a piece of ridiculous audience participation – a typically twisted scenario involving masks and costumes that’s guaranteed to bring out the laughs.

Finally, poet Tim Key: the headliner, the current holder of the Edinburgh Comedy Award… and the man who ultimately ensured the gig ended with a disappointing whimper, rather than a bang.

His gauche, low-energy performance engenders a discomfiting atmosphere in any situation, but he’s usually saved by the awkward brilliance of his poems, and the myriad wry footnotes with which he explains each of them. Tonight, something went amiss.

Key takes umbrage at being described as a ‘deliberately bad’ poet, saying: ‘There’s nothing deliberate about it.’ Unconventional might be a better adjective, as there’s certainly evocative language and witty jokes in many of his whimsical verses – about cooking with dew, for example. And the hilarious image of his father – who we are constantly reminded comes from a different generation – with his jar of Ragu sauce is an indelible one.

But ultimately a set that mischievously flirts in self-indulgence threw itself headlong into that abyss. Poems were abandoned for a spoof improvised story game, with Key the only participant, and verses even more obtuse than his normal canon. The regular chuckles turned into embarrassed titters – combined with impatience at an act overstaying his welcome – until few than half a dozen people seemed to be entertained by the agonising filibustering.

Key didn’t appear to mind – in fact he seemed to take perverse delight in the pain his slow death was causing – but it was a sorry end to a promising set (and an otherwise outstanding night) from a comedian capable of much better things.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Published: 19 Nov 2009

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