Jumping On The Bandwagon
Note: This review is from 2009
Well, they certainly make no apologies for it. By naming their tour Jumping On The Bandwagon, even tongue in cheek, these four Manchester-based comics are implicitly acknowledging that they wouldn't be playing theatres were it not for their supporting roles in Phoenix Nights.
Is that enough? It's not as if you'd pay to see Polly, The Major and Brian Hall in a Fawlty Towers spin-off tour.
The difference is that Patrick McGuinness, Archie Kelly, Janice Connolly and Steve Edge were comics of varying standings before fate – or rather Peter Kay – smiled on them. But there's still the fear that these are going to be unexceptional stand-ups elevated by their sitcom roles.
In some ways it's hard to judge. They are not from the world of that is still called 'alternative' comedy by some, but from the parallel universe of Northern club acts. Not that any of the old bad habits are present – you won't hear gags that are sexist, racist or any other sort of –ist here – and the comics even write their own material.
But it's not a universe where creativity and risk count for much. The emphasis here is very much on no-nonsense entertainment, giving the audience exactly what they want, with no surprises, no challenges. It may not be especially edifying, but it's damn popular.
Compere McGuinness – Paddy to Kay's Max on the door of the Phoenix Club – immediately assuages any doubt about what the audience are in for, taking to the stage to the Minder theme I Could Be So Good For You. Not with any knowing wink or postmodern irony, this is such pure showbiz he even cajoles the willing audience to sing along. It's unsophisticated but effective, something of a theme for the night.
As a performer, McGuinness is full of beans, energetically setting a tone of simple fun. His timing and delivery are spot-on, the spirit playful. It's these which prove so crowd-pleasing, quickly generating the required laughs and the atmosphere, rather than any of the flimsy material.
The first act, or mate, he so warmly introduces is Midlander Steve Edge, though he's certainly not edgy by nature. Instead he serves up a sturdy but bland died of regional stereotyping and Eighties nostalgia, where mere mention of the word 'Kajagoogoo' is enough to get a laugh.
He doesn't have much time for pensioners, either, damning them all as whingeing, incontinent Werthers addicts – a typical example of the shortcuts he takes to use established images, rather than thinking outside the pre-defined box.
Though it's not spectacularly original, it's backed by a workmanlike delivery that ensures the laughs always fall in the right places. Even so, his feels much more like an appetiser act than a main course.
Janice Connolly's creation, Mrs Barbara Nice, offers a lot more substance to enjoy, with more than enough wit, invention, keen observation and high spirits to appeal far beyond this show's core demographic and into any comedic arena.
This post-menopausal working mother of five from Stockport is an affectionate, joyous celebration of the mundane. Mrs Nice is ordinary, and proud of it: a Take A Break reader, bargain-hunting catalogue shopper and formidable morale-booster.
Much of the latter is achieved by making a fool of herself, whether it be belting out an off-key Robbie Williams number or revelling in her own malapropism-blighted tales. But the audience are not going to get away scot-free, as she ropes everyone into her demented participation. Sometimes, it's patronising, such as the childish song she badgers everyone to sing like a bullying nursery school teacher, but at best it's inspired. Witnessing her audacious stage-dive really does feel like something special.
And that's the crux of her appeal. No one creates an uplifting mood quite like our Barbara. Her 45-minute set was maybe ten minutes too long, but she certainly sent everyone into the interval with a spring in their step.
Back to more familiar fodder after the break, with teacher-turned-stand-up Archie Kelly, a career change he milked for plenty of material.
He's got plenty of talent in his armory: a great singing voice, a knack for impersonation and an endearing stage manner. But he puts it all to very predictable use in a set that any seasoned comedy-goer would find somewhat stale as it never gets any more imaginative that 'Imagine the big speech from Gladiator performed by Bruce Forsyth!' Add some stock putdowns, and the fact he's the umpteenth comic to do a song about 'The Taliban Can' to the tune of 'the Candy Man Can', and that's the extent of his ambition.
It goes down incredibly well, though, with whoops and cheers for simply launching into a Joe Pesci impersonation. If that's what's wanted, who can blame him for not delving into more interesting territory? I might have been unmoved by the material, but I was certainly in a minority. Possibly a minority of one.
There are more songs to end his set – this is all-round entertainment after all – before the entire cast return for a reprise of I Could Be So Good For You and a barnstorming, roof-raising rendition of Amarillo By Morning.
Essentially, this is not a show for comedy aficionados, but a devastatingly effective piece of populist entertainment; an introduction to the world of stand-up for an audience who might otherwise have ended up at an Abba tribute concert.
It's easy to sneer, but this comedy-unsavvy audience don't care much for the niceties of the art, they just want to laugh. And this quartet make damn sure they do.
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