Bearcat Hanwell opening night
It’s been more than 17 years since I last went up the steps to this function room above a West London pub, more than 17 years since The Viaduct in Hanwell hosted comedy at all. For a long time this used to be Ha Bloody Ha, my local comedy club, the venue that converted me from an occasional comedy-goer to a regular one. I worked for the local paper and every Friday night I’d be a judge in their new act competition. Ardal O’Hanlon won one year, I recall.Now the room is back in use. Twickenham’s Bearcat Comedy – one of the capital’s oldest clubs, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year – has moved in, and on this opening night headliner Milton Jones has drawn a full house. Hopefully a good portent of things to come.The night opens with Andy White dressed in a crushed velvet jacket that makes him look, by his own description, a little Doctor Whoish. He’s a circuit stalwart and the sort of safe pair of hands you need to open a club, let alone a gig. Bearcat doesn’t really have a compere – promoter James Punnett does a perfunctory introduction, that’s all – so it’s down to White to settle the room, which he does with little fuss. He has gags about his appearance, plays up class distinctions between his down-to-earth Brummie nature and his exaggeratedly his posh brother-in-law, and can deploy a useful array of voices – and even a snatch of song – to hold the attention. His comedy is a bit silly, but otherwise doesn’t have a particularly strong flavour. It’s mainstream without the worst connotations of the word, with broad appeal for affable observational routines, delivered with an undramatic conversational style.Not that they are without substance, but his everyman approach means even potentially dubious-taste jokes evoking Jimmy Savile or a ‘Muslim Father Christmas’ come across as merely naughty. Likewise some of the more graphic realities of a birthing pool are brought up, but not dwelled upon, just enough to let the image float across the mind. He even gets laughs from a racist gag, showing shock at its offensiveness just to remind those who laughed unironically that they shouldn’t have…After the first break, Angus Dunican was a little slower to connect to the audience, although he beams with innate confidence. His content revolves around not quite feeling like a proper grown-up – what with this job that allows him to loaf around all day, and lapsing immediately to old ways when he visits the parents. With a few geographical jibes, his material is solid rather than stand-out, aside from a nicely surreal closing routine that deploys an unusual prop. Yet his oratorial skill works wonders and when, at the end of the set, Punnett asks if open-spot Dunican should be paid next time, the audience roar with approval.There were no question marks over the ability of punchy and charismatic Canadian Paul Myrehaug to work the room with his devastatingly efficient set. Even the opening routine – which he told us was new – hit the ground running. There’s more than a dash of unreconstructed, unPC, alpha-maleness about his attitude, but with sections as skilfully executed as his techniques for scooping up women, that is easily forgiven. And he’s playful with the tone, too, whether it’s in causing mischief at the supermarket or brilliantly puncturing the slight tension he creates in some quarters with tightrope-walk material about the fears his has for his daughters’ chastity.A tipsy, keen-to-get-involved woman in the front row, who could have been an unsettling force, was quelled with charming dominance – and gave Myrehaug a brilliantly ad-libbed climax to an impressive and power-packed set.The second interval was followed by Luke Graves, whose delivery was uneventful compared to the fireworks just witnessed. But where there might have been a lack of energy there was no lack of jokes, as he proves himself a more-than useful writer. Although his nine-toed mate probably deserves a co-writing credit, since many of the best lines come attributed to him. Graves is a little too vanilla of a persona to get a handle on, however, with a mildly nice-guy image occasionally tempered with jokes such as his professed dislike of children. Other material ranges from the peculiar sex life of a certain species of honey bee to the more predictable discussion of how dirty words translate int British Sign Language. It’s a down-the-line, perfectly decent set but needs a little tightening and more personality to really be distinctive.Yet another break later and Milton Jones delivered exactly what was expected of him, a near-relentless stream of quirky one-liners evoking wonderfully absurd images with a delightful efficiency of language and offbeat thought. He even has an inventive way of introducing new material into the set – he is, after all, working up material for another tour kicking off in the new year – but at least 75 per cent of what he read from his crumpled sheath of papers was instant gold. And even plenty in the memorised material that bookended this seemed new. His mind is clearly as industrious as it is strange.
And the heckler was nicely dealt with too...