Escapologist and contortionist
Chris Cross Videos
Bob Slayer's Rock & Roll Circus
Note: This review is from 2010
Bob Slayer says he put together this ‘outsiders’ comedy tour as an alternative what he sees as an increasingly homogenous mainstream clubs, full of careerist stand-ups seeking to follow the now-established trajectory from circuit to panel shows or televised roadshows.
While he has a point, his rejection of anything that might be considered even vaguely professional results in subjecting audiences at the Rock & Roll Circus to large tracts of indulgent fannying around, in the vague hope something funny might arise. Audiences do get fleeting moments of spontaneously anarchic humour, but they have to endure plenty of drivel to get there.
As host, he aims to create drunken chaos, downing pints and even jugs from punters’ tables and chatting inanely. He clambers around the room, and brings audience members on to the stage, all in search of a laugh – but he hasn’t a plan, nor any jokes, so his compering is without purpose or point. Maybe I’m just a conservative fuddy-duddy to want more but the audience in a freezing Highlight club in Reading seemed to agree, with many a ‘Get on with it’-type heckle. For anarchy, it wasn’t half tedious.
It takes a skill to build a gig in your image – Andrew Maxwell did it with the ideologically similar Fullmooners, and Daniel Kitson, before he got all theatrical, could do it anywhere – but Slayer, a music manager only relatively recently turned comedian, hasn't the knack, or the experience, to get away with it.
This might not matter if the acts were strong, where he could be considered a benign drunk punctuating proceedings, but they were as uncertain as him.
Chris Cross is a sometime street entertainer, and he spent much of his long set employing the sort of techniques that might gather you a crowd in Covent Garden, but feels like padding in front of a captive crowd. And his audience participation, which involved licking their faces and heads, mistook boisterousness for humour.
The nub of his act – involving contortion and escapology – is as entertaining as it is gruesome, but it was a long time coming, as he likes the sound of his own voice too much.
Largely wordless physical comedian Dr Brown was even more of a challenge. In festivals, I’ve previously watched baffled with one half the audience as the other half are reduced to hysterics by his bizarre clowning. Without wanting to appear sadistic, here, where the entire audience hate him, the experience is much more fun.
He comes on, scruffily dressed, and stands silent for a while, absorbing a barrage of heckles suck as ‘Big Issue’ and the perennial ‘Next!’. After a while he opens a bottle of water and drinks it, and another, and, pausing only to emit a watery belch, another, while the volume of vocal disapproval rises. ‘Bring the boring cunt back on!’ comes the cry from one man who’d rather have more Slayer than this…
Eventually, the tension’s broken, but not, perhaps as Dr Brown had planned. As he casually tosses the empty bottles into the audience, one comes back with venomous force. Breaking his silence, the good Doctor coaxes the offender on stage, to empty a full litre of water over him. Then another two litres. The disgruntled punter is drenched, this on a night when the temperature outside is –3C, and not all that much warmer inside. He should be furious. But he’s not. He returns to his seat laughing with his friends. Set over.
These are the unique moments Slayer is aiming for, and it was certainly a memorable routine for the extraordinary interplay between Brown and the mob/audience. Unpredictable – and probably unrepeatable – stuff.
Finally headliner, Jason Rouse, a full-on rock and roll comic: tattooed, pierced and in full metal garb. His routine is a tirade of unspeakable depravity; comedy’s equivalent of Two Girls, One Cup.
But amid all the various excretions and list of inappropriate places he put his dick, the most shocking statement comes when he mentions his age – 39. He’s more the image of a feckless twentysomething waster than a middle-aged man.
In a night of weirdness, he is, however, a clear-cut comic, with defined punchlines, slammed hard. His delivery is aggressive tackling such subject matter as feral drunk English girls and the Americans’ puritanical approach to swearing, while demonstrating a knockout quick wit when it comes to the inevitable heckles.
He lost some momentum towards the second half of the set, but also fleetingly displays a sweet side, which proves funny, not least because it serves as a rare break from the filth. This was the sort of act this audience had come to see, and they weren’t disappointed. .
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