Guffaw Comedy Club with Paul Tonkinson
Beneath the railway arches near London Bridge station, the new home of long-running Guffaw Comedy Club has the makeshift feel of a hastily put-together Fringe venue. The ceilings of the Underdog art gallery are too high – making it especially chilly on a cold January night – cobbled-together lighting doesn’t illuminate the comedians’ faces, and the commuter services rumble ominously overhead.
But you don’t exist for 21 years without doing something right, and the answer might lie in promoter Alaric Dynevor’s booking policy of offering top circuit names – tonight including Mike Gunn and Paul Tonkinson, fresh from supporting Lee Mack and Michael McIntyre respectively.
It’s MCed by MC Mary Bourke, although with her slow-burning deadpan, she isn’t the obvious choice to inject energy into the room. Indeed, between acts finds herself talking into a hubbub of bar and toilet visits with an unengaged audience. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t do too much traditional compering, pondering between jokes and banter at the start of the show, and opting for the former. When she does engage, it sometimes works very well – a quick comeback to the Aussie girl talking of a ‘pash n dash’ for example – but sometimes ends in a cul-de-sac, as with the ‘silver fox’ in the front row.
Much of her material comes from a bitter contempt for middle-class parents – Mumsnetters especially – and she drips vitriol at their smugness. Sarcasm, too, is levelled at the literary output of the Kardashian clan, an easy target, but not undeserving. With easily accessible topics, including what she prefaces with the disclaimer ‘here comes the hack Tinder bit’ (basically about chat-up lines and dick pics), the audience are already on board. She just needs to share the truth with a sardonic aside, which she dutifully provides.
Mike Gunn also has a subject that might be considered one of the busiest intersections on comedy’s Route One: public toilets. There are, indeed, some familiar observations in this sizeable routine, but his coverage of the topic is so comprehensive, with no seat left unlifted, that he can probably claim to be the topic’s, erm, No1 commentator.
Yet it is his engagingly no-nonsense demeanour that sells all of his material – from the tongue-in-cheek sexism about the state of his own marriage to the mixed bag of disconnected gags that open his set. He’s downbeat, but with a chuckle – fully aware that life is shit, so a dark laugh is the only natural response.
With the dour overtones of compere and opener, it was down to newish Archie Maddocks to inject some higher spirits into the night with his well-polished ten minutes. He cheerily and effectively describes the national archetypes of his Trinidadian roots with a wittily descriptive tale of reactions to a rough plane trip to the Caribbean, before revealing a bit more about how that undeniable self-faith is manifest in his own life, via a self-deprecating story of how he just had to rise to a stupid egg-swallowing challenge. With his lean and lively set, he slotted in between the far more experienced hands seamlessly.
Tonkinson had much fun with the shortcomings of the venue, not least berating the fact he spends hours perfecting every comical facial expression in the mirror – and here they can barely be seen. That’s true, for his characterisations of his relatives and other folk in his tales have always been his strongest suit. Caricatures seem to flow out of his head like Ghostbusters sprites escaping a powered-down containment unit, brought to life with physicality and cartoon-like voices.
His routine mixes observational set pieces with audience interaction and a semi-absent-minded patrol of the venue. With a generally younger crowd, fortysomething Tonkinson presents himself as a harbinger of their future, when they too will find themselves in a long-term relationship, struggling to bring up children, so giving his material a relevance to their lives. It also leads him to a passioned debate about spreadable butter with one punter, which proved hilariously obtuse, and contributing to the winning mix of the scripted and the ad-lib that makes for a dependably funny set.
More acts like this – and maybe investment in a couple of spotlights - could see another 21 years of Guffawing.
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