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Glenn Wool

Glenn Wool

Nominated for best headliner in the 2008 Chortle awards.

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Jim Jefferies etc: BST festival

Jim Jefferies etc: BST festival

After the weekend warm-up acts of Kylie and Blur, London’s Hyde Park has now been given over to the comedians. Albeit with once caveat: no swearing until sundown, the Royal Park wardens forbid it.

The rule is to protect impressionable ears outside the arena’s steel walls, not Jim Jefferies fans within it, who must be inured to the explicit, brutal way he tramples over sensitivities by now.

We kick straight off with the sort of rape jokes that have got him into plenty of hot water before, suggesting Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes are ‘not the worst sort of rape’. This is the sort of stuff he really oughtn’t to be saying; which is, of course, why Jefferies says it, and with the knowing sideways snigger of the attention-seeking schoolboy within him. But it’s dangerous being a shock comic these days, he needs to put in a note of justification: ‘I have to assume people don’t take this at face value,’ he says. ‘It’s not a TED talk.’ As if that would stop the protest letters he gets.

Still, it’s not entirely provocative for the sake of it. What’s worse, he argues, to swear and tell dirty jokes but not be a sexual predator; or have Cosby’s clean-cut avuncular image while behaving much worse off-stage.

Of course Jefferies is no role model, that becomes abundantly clear as the set goes on. But the most offensive lines are funny precisely because they are so transgressive, although as always with this sort of material there’s always a nagging doubt it normalises an aggressive banter that, outside the safe space of a comedy gig, can be nasty and intimidating. In context, though – and context is everything – it certainly works.

It would also be wrong to dismiss Jefferies merely as an offensive comic. Though that’s the most powerful tool in his arsenal, he is also a compelling storyteller when the need arises. The core of this show is about his well-intentioned but sometimes cock-eyed attempts at parenting. From the ante-natal classes to a particularly gruesome description of toilet training, it’s obvious he’s not the naturally paternal type.

There’s an edge of social commentary, too, as he raises issues such as the disproven but persistent belief that vaccination is linked to autism, or the hypocrisy about prostitution in the ‘land of the free’. A recent routine of his about gun control has recently gone viral in the wake of the Charleston shooting, although he only references it here by mentioning the vicious gun lobby backlash that surprised even him, no stranger to dividing opinion.

He’s among friends here, though, to the extent that there’s a potent cult of personality amid some of the audience. When he calls religion idiotic, there are whoops of support a politician would be pleased to get at a rally speech, even without him saying anything more interesting. It’s a disconcertingly slavish reaction… even though it’s the same fandom that cuts him some slack to digress on topics such as rating men and women’s attractiveness on a ten-point scale without needing a gag every 30 seconds.

A more laid-back approach, counterintuitively, seems to suit an outdoor music festival setting more than a bigger rock-star approach. For the vibe is more relaxed, people sitting on the grass, wandering freely to the bar, food stalls and toilets, checking their phones, having their own conversations – all far more freely than in a theatre setting.

So when host Andrew Maxwell says, apropos of nothing, ‘The worst thing about buggery on the high seas is…’ there’s almost no reaction, where you’d expect a more attentive audience to react to the sudden, surreal gear change. Still Maxwell’s genial rabble-rousing was enough to get the crowd focussed on the stage.

Newly clean-shaven Glenn Wool has the same overdramatic style as Maxwell, and has a nicely wry ice-breaker about his Hollywood dreams turning sour, typical of his witty, playful style behind the imposing delivery. But a long routine about Jesus being a prophet in the Koran, though founded on an excellent joke, floundered slightly as he lost sections of the audience in the more digressive sections, including a convoluted story about his trip to Ho Chi Minh City, which dilute the impact of its payoff.s

Katherine Ryan revealed one of her comedy role models quickly, opening with a far-from-deferential gag about Joan Rivers’s death, which the queen of mean herself would surely have appreciated. The ensuing set offered an appealing mix of celebrity sniping – the former Cheryl Cole bearing a heavy brunt of the jokes – and astute social commentary, not least when it comes to social hypocrisy. She’s certainly a comic who’s on her game, winning over Jefferies’s more laddish than average crowd.

And what Ryan did for sexism, opening act Jamali Maddix did for racism. It’s been just over a year since I first saw him, in a Manchester halls of residence heat of the Chortle Student Comedy Award, last year, a title which he went on to win. And despite his relative inexperience, he seems at home on such a big stage, casually swigging a beer as he counters the ‘Bin Laden’ heckles he gets in the streets and other everyday racism. He ends with a zig-zagging routine that he says contains the essence of his comedy: economic commentary, race, and a bit of dick-sucking.

Jefferies’s audience would certainly appreciate that cocktail.

Wednesday 24th Jun, '15

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