Jo Caulfield

Jo Caulfield

Nominated for best compere in the 2004 Chortle Awards and best female stand-up in the same awards in 2002.
Read More

The Comedians at the King's

Steve Bennett reviews the second night of this possible TV project

When John Moloney saw an injustice, he decided to do something about it.

His issue was that television rarely seeks out stand-ups who have been gigging night in, night out for decades. In its ceaseless quest for the next big thing, the medium ignores those acts who have proved – and continue to prove –  their worth on the live circuit. 

So, not exactly selflessly, he decided to make his own show featuring comics aged 50-plus who hadn’t got the TV  exposure he felt they deserved. The acts themselves would fund it in the hope of finding a broadcaster later – ironically making it a heightened version of the hated pay-to-play model that blights the open-mic circuit. The result was filmed to top-notch standard over the last two nights at the historic King’s Theatre in Glasgow.

Over-50s aren’t exactly a rarity on TV comedy (at least for blokes), with the likes of John Bishop and Micky Flanagan springing to mind – but panel shows do tend to stick to the same pool of trusted acts. The uncharitable spin is that The Comedians at The King’s line-up haven’t ‘made it’ in broadcasting terms – even if securing a decades-long living from live comedy would surely be considered a win for anyone who embarked on that treacherous career.

It is surely no accident that the title of the show  – chosen after Moloney ditched his original, jokey idea of ‘Dead At The Apollo’ –  evokes the 1970s stand-up showcase The Comedians, which likewise showcased often older acts who were well-established on the working men’s club circuit, bringing them to the attention of the wider public and making stars of the likes of Stan Boardman, Frank Carson, Jimmy Cricket and Bernard Manning.

The first night of the new show featured Sol Bernstein, Mark Maier, Eddie Brimson and the Raymond & Mr Timpkins Revue, among many others.  And this second night featured three more recordings of three-acts-and-a-compere shows, each surely featured over a century of stage experience.

Given that, you might expect a 100 per cent hit rate, but  it was more hit-and-miss on the night than you might expect  – though that might be fixed in the editing suite. Certainly momentum was hard to build up in a large venue that will look glorious on camera, but which swallowed laughs in a way that the tight, intimate, low-ceilinged club venues these acts normally play don’t.

Even Glasgow’s own Gary Little, compering the first section, got a muted response to his initial tale of a peculiar encounter with a dog-walker, even though it’s a pleasingly weird picture he paints. He piqued the interest more with anecdotes of being jailed for book-stealing – an offence far less hardcore than his fellow inmates had committed – and stories about living with his dad got laughs, although the punchlines were a little predictable, not least because of some unsubtle foreshadowing.

Paul Ricketts had valid points to make about gentrification in his London-centric set – do Glaswegians really know Dalston Junction or have an innate feel for what E8 means as a neighbourhood? – but the gags were all-too familiar jibes at hipsters. His biggest laugh was for a ‘…and that was just the bus driver’ line which he may  have delivered as part of an ironic mocking of hack middle-class anecdotal comedian, but he was having his gluten-free artisanal cake and eating it.

Birmingham’s Jo Enright has had a few bites at TV, but usually as an actress in the likes of Ideal, Life’s Too Short and The Job Lot, rather than as a comedian. And indeed, it’s her characterisations that elevate her stand-up – in this delightful and funny set that  included charming, affectionate parodies of the affectations of her French ante-natal nurse or nasal tones of her health visitor as she spoke of becoming a mother late in life.

Little briefly demonstrated he could evoke a few characters himself – namely the junkies of Glasgow – before introducing the closing act of show one, Smug Roberts. His ‘can’t be arsed’ attitude was an amusing counterpoint to the grand occasion, even if entirely tongue-in-cheek from a jovial joke-merchant. He even opens with an old pub gag, but gets away with it because of his unapologetic brass front – typical of a set that’s marked with a very cheery resignation of his lot in life, as the parent of a child young enough to be his grandson.

Queen of the cynics Jo Caulfield compered the second section, pouring scorn on everything from backpackers to the entire male part of the planet, so dumb they think slogans on underpants are the height of wit. Though in the second cake-and-eat-it moment of the night, she suggests alternatives as if they weren’t already actually available as products. But her tone of impatience at idiots everywhere, especially airport security, strikes a cathartic cord.

Ninia Benjaman had the best-received set of the night by a long chalk, thanks to her irrepressible energy. ‘Is she filthy? Yes she is,’ she asks rhetorically at the start. And she’s a force of nature, too. We’ve had the Beast from the East, here’s the Mouth from the South as this brash Londoner unleashes an El Ninia hurricane of consciousness. What she says doesn’t always make sense as she plays up the ‘dumb-but-couldn’t-care-less’ card. But the way she says it is hilarious. Slightly like Frankie Howerd – and that comparison is in no way obvious – it’s the half-finished sentences and random asides that make her set such a ride, delivered with the enthusiasm to fire up the toughest of rooms.

A complete change energy next, courtesy of the deadpan Trevor Crook, who epitomises the directionless, low-ambition Aussie bloke, feeling henpecked whenever a woman in his life wants him to do something. It means he exudes the vibe of an old-school unreconstructed man, but his existence is clearly not meant to be emulated. Crucially, of course, is the fact he distills his slothful disgruntlement into dry, well-formed and very quotable one-liners.

Addy Van Der Borgh has the exaggerated features and mime-like performance that makes him a classic clown. But tonight Glasgow wasn’t buying what he was selling. His Ryanair chunk went down OK, but was relatively uninspired, no matter how much physicality he brought to it. However, the audience did not get on board with his premise about his home insurance covering acts of terrorism, and his inevitable play-out about how a highly-trained Hezbollah unit might attack his modest flat seemed to last forever, with only the tiniest smattering of laughs.

After an interval, Janey Goldey’s unaffected banter restored the  energy for the second half, sharing stories of life with her smart-arse daughter and husband with autism, ‘not the good kind’. Some of her set is a mini-class war, mocking the Waitrose shoppers in their cherry red cords, but the blows land because these are so ripe for mocking, and her over-sharing friendliness is infectious.

More deadpan next, with Michael Redmond’s quirky absurdity – although we did have to get over the fact he was wearing red trousers, given Godley’s putdown. Redmond has some of the most inventively off-kilter lines in the business, but  he likes to have them set in isolation for maximum impact, which makes for a slow-paced set too low-wattage to set this gig ablaze. But those gags are memorable – not least those pertaining to his sheepdog-like appearance – and you can’t fault his commitment to the gag: he’s playing a long-term prank on Piers Morgan that could take a couple of decades or more to pay off.

‘I know what you’re thinking, Freddie Starr’s let himself go,’ is Nick Wilty’s formulaic opening gambit, which rather overlooks the fact Wilty is looking a lot better preserved these days than the veteran hamster-muncher. Wilty’s very much a gag-monger, and the lines come thick and fast, whether they be part of slightly fantastical stories involving Istanbul carpet-sellers or closer-to-home anecdotes about prostate exams. As a former soldier who served in the Falklands, Wilty is more machine-gunner than sniper, and as many jokes miss as hit; but there’s so many that there will be enough to satisfy any sense of humour.

Finally, JoJo Sutherland also had a mixed set, largely about being a bad mother: drinking, smoking and caring little for her kids. There’s a decent number of good lines, but there’s fat on the build-ups that could be trimmed to make a tighter set… and we probably wouldn’t miss two-thirds of her jokes about Facebook. Sutherland’s personal life is unusual, to say the least, as she’s married to her ex’s brother. That means the last part of her routine a real fascination, as well as unique perspective which she well exploits. It’s certainly a situation you want to hear her speak more about.

Whether the screen version of The Comedians at the King’s will change the minds of those who decides who appears on existing TV stand-up and panel shows is probably open to question, given how such programmes are often about  developing relationships with emerging talent more than showcasing a Tight Ten honed over years on the circuit.

But broadcasters are said to be interested in the finished version of this show that’s being made by Edinburgh-based Dabster Productions. So maybe Mohoney’s dream will come true, and there will be more circuit stalwarts on your TV – and that will be a triumph of the ‘just get out there and do it’ spirit.

Read More

Published: 22 Mar 2018

Jo Caulfield

It takes a certain type of person to be able to tell…
1/01/2003

Jo Caulfield

Jo Caulfield puts the chatty, gossipy style she has…
1/01/2002

Comments

Agent

We do not currently hold contact details for Jo Caulfield's agent. If you are a comic or agent wanting your details to appear on Chortle, click here.

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.