Josh is the son of legendary PR guru Lynne Franks, the woman who inspired Jennifer Saunders’ character Edina in Absolutely Fabulous. Raised as a Buddhist this ex-public schoolboy then trained as a Rabbi before being kicked off the programme for being caught with a naked (non-Jewish) girl. He started his own PR firm when he was just 16, received critical acclaim for writing and directing a short film for Channel 4, and has had a number of senior roles in music video production companies. And now he’s decided to settle down and get a proper job – as a stand-up comedian, which started in earnest with his first trip to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2003.
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Just For Laughs Comedy Store showcase
Always an odd gig, this one, with no compere and well-established acts compressing their usual 20 minutes or so into a tight eight – all the while trying to impress the talent-spotters from Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. Not that this Comedy Store gig is quite an audition, either, more than a chance for the Canadians to get an holistic feel for who’s doing well rather than a night with a definite ‘you’re hired!’ conclusion.
Opening act Gary Delaney did his best to try to explain all this – and execute the quickest bit of audience warm-up known to man – without eating too much into his allocated time. Normally with comedians who peddle one-liners, the concern is ‘well, it’s funny.. but I don’t know how much more I could bear.’ But with Delaney’s smart, sometimes edgy, punchlines, his set was over far too soon. His cheeky delivery, cracking up at his own silliness, makes these easy to listen to, and the twists are almost always unforeseeable.
Benny Boot has an appealing quirkiness, too. His opening, in which he pulled back the curtain to explain stand-up is actually scripted, missed the mark – not helped by his nasal delivery and too-deliberate nervous wriggles around the mike stand. But the bulk of the material is strong indeed, whether he’s describing fiendishly inventive pranks or making obtuse, almost surreal, observations, this Australian has a keen sense of the absurd.
With his consummate rap skills, Doc Brown is the perfect entertainer. His track about everyone being racist is a fairly straightforward take on the ‘is it cos I is black?’ style of victim culture – but the lyrics are slick and the performance faultless. In his allotted time he could only hint at the dichotomy of his life – as a now middle-class nerd who ‘rolls with rappers’, although he’s previously proved how rich a comic vein that is.
Swedish-based, English-born, New-Zealand raised Al Pitcher is a fairly broad storytelling type of comedian, with engaging, although not fascinating, stories of train and plane travel – and a few national traits. For my taste, it’s not substantive enough, but most of the audience would probably disagree, based on their easy laughs. And it can’t be denied that he can come up with the occasional analogy that’s just perfect.
One of James Mullinger’s earliest gigs was at Just For Laughs in 2005, as he wrote a feature as part of his day job at GQ. Seven years later, and it’s hard to see him among the best of the internationals who make it to Montreal, with a set that’s noticeable short on laughs. He generates a lot of noise, mainly thanks to a forceful, even loudmouth, delivery and a lot of ‘any drinkers in?!’-style soliciting of cheers. But the writing is long-winded, and too often uses a tone of high-pitched incredulity in place of a punchline. Thank god for the man clumsily falling off his chair in the front row, as Mullinger dealt with that deftly enough in a moment that made him more human than the act did.
Next up, freaky Paul Savage, who did prove more successful with those sections of the audience not put off by his random stream-of-consciousness style, in which every statement is instantly negated with a ‘not really’, ‘I haven’t’ ‘You can’t’ or ‘They didn’t’. But it’s pretty infuriating to have contradiction in place of payoffs. Away from this nonsense, there are a couple of actual gags, which proved stronger, and the closing song about his exes had a certain charm than surpassed the cat-in-a-blender vocal style.
After the interval, Keith Farnan with his self-confessed ‘twinkly Irish bollocks’, although his crowd-pleasing material about his homeland and its economic chaos didn’t boast the insight of which he has previously proved capable. But lines proposing himself as a supreme being, and his take on women’s image issues, provide a potent, and funny, mix of the intelligent and the silly.
On the strength of his impressive routine, you wouldn’t want to be married to Josh Howie, who portrays himself as a petty, angry man hell-bent on proving himself right, no matter what. Fortunately these antisocial characteristics make comedy gold, and his recollection of the simmering tensions over an ante-natal hospital trip with his wife is skilfully constructed, as he reruns all the annoyances from his side of the argument, well-paced to winkle out plenty of laughs of recognition.
You could spot John Lynn’s voice anywhere – a strangulated Irish brogue with long lazy voweeeels that put any word on the rack. His tales concern him being an ex-teacher, being in a bad marriage or picking up his drunk missus, which he acts out with all-too believable conviction. However, the content is otherwise slight, and sometimes predictable, which means the languid approach is a bit of a patience-tester.
Ian Stone is a much sharper operator, with a focus on getting the gags out as efficiently as possible. They start with some cynical quickies about his Jewish background and the Middle East situation, which he’s been performing for long enough to be perfectly honed (even while relying on familiar stereotypes) before moving on to an inherently funny Twitter exchange between the Dalai Lama and ‘Sheffield Tony’, with just enough embellishment to make it sparkle.
Tony Law’s meta-comedy madness blasts through the room like an Artic wind, refreshing but disorientating. His material piles on the cheese, while his ceaseless commentary on the artifice of his prepared material is an appealing combination of comedy in-jokes and self-referential oddness. He describes himself as a maverick nut bar – and it would be hard to disagree.
To wind up, a more gentle storytelling approach from Elis James, living up to the cliché of the lyrical Welshman. After a couple of ice-breakers about the Welsh language, his mother tongue, he regaled with a story about a wedding party incident that had ambitions of Dirty Dancing, but ended up more You’ve Been Framed. It’s a slight story, and gentler than the last couple of acts, but James is charm personified, and it’s a warmly satisfying end to a packed night.