Hackney Empire New Act of the Year Finalist 2008
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Brighton Comedy Fringe launch 2011
You might think a gala launch would have some sense of occasion. Not so the Brighton Comedy Fringe, whose opening night was hosted by a compere who seemed to take a perverse pride in draining the energy from the room, while a couple of the acts seemed reluctant to be there. Enthusiasm, let alone showmanship, was thin on the ground.
As MC, Nicky Mitchell has to take prime responsibility for setting the mood, so it doesn’t auger well when her main, recurring joke is about how badly she’s doing, with frequent references to her mood-killing contributions. Still, she sang The Bare Necessities, which cheered us up, while an utterly surreal opening scene was refreshingly bonkers, even if her low-key approach meant she didn’t fully celebrate the absurdity of the situation and make it funny as well as odd.
Richard Perry was a worse offender, complaining of his hangover and how he was never meant to be doing this gig, called in, as he was, at the last moment. Deadpan at the best of times, his extra-subdued delivery tonight befitted a man in his delicate state, but it’s quite a slog to listen to, especially as the writing isn’t always as brisk as it could be. Yet he has some nice offbeat ideas and neat punchlines, so why not display them better? The only time the performance had any energy when he did an entertaining Alan Carr impression.
Chortle student comedy award-winner Adam Hess initially seemed to have caught the gig’s lethargy, too, but it wasn’t long until his nervy, convulsive delivery kicked in, giving a distinctive edge to his quirky one-liners. The gags come quickly, and he virtually batters the audience into laughter.
Putting more enthusiasm into the gig was Madam Galina, the oversized ballet diva played by Iestyn Edwards glissading along the line between cajoling and bullying as he put some audience ‘volunteers’ through their paces. It’s more gameshow-style fun than carefully crafted comedy, but the prima donna does does inject some much-needed fun into the night. Kudos, too, to the victim who injected some humour of his own into the piece – even if bossy Madam Galina doesn’t like to share the limelight.
After the interval came Gerry Howell, who tells us he’s been away from the circuit for a while. His rambling, scatterbrain style used to always draw comparisons with Eddie Izzard – so it didn’t help when he started talking in hesitant schoolboy French, given Izzard’s own adventures in the language. But he soon settled into his own voice. Unfortunately, this is a little long-winded, with a lot of unnecessary guff around the subjects as he repeatedly pats his breast pockets in a strange nervous tic. Like Perry he has strong punchlines, and the laughs that do come are hearty ones, but they are too well-spaced.
Finally, Mark Allen, who hosts a regular comedy quiz called The Humble Quest For Universal Genius, the bastard child of QI and Shooting Stars, combining genuine knowledge with a strong sense of the absurd. Here we got but a short sample of a show that normally plays out over an entire evening, so the pace wasn’t quite right, but we all learned something about both peas and history while enjoying the light-touch shenanigans.
But overall this probably wasn’t the glorious showcase that this fringe deserved. There are some fine under-the-radar shows coming to the Three and Ten over the next couple of the weeks, as the big boys play the main comedy festival down the road, yet the gala didn’t really capture the best of them. Check the intimate venue’s listings for more.
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