Old Comedian Of The Year 2016 Final

Review by Steve Bennett at the Leicester Square Theatre, London

Never mind Old Comedian Of The Year, maybe it’s time for a Posh Comedian Of The Year competition, given the number of upper-class characters – real, exaggerated or fictional – on display in this year’s competition for the over-35s. Though it would seem unfair in the extreme to give an extra leg-up to this already privileged group.

Top place went to Joe Bor, as privileged ‘freelance adventurer; Jasper Cromwell-Jones. Runner-up was Richard Rycroft in his alter-ego of the well-heeled Labour MP Magnus Turner MP, and Elizabeth Mee, a seemingly genuine upper-middle-class lady who lunches, put in a sterling performance, but was ultimately unplaced.

However Leicester Square Theatre’s celebration of experience over youth  started at the very other end of the socio-economic spectrum, with proud woking-class Londoner Lenny Sherman, a proper geezer’s geezer who successfully trod the line of mocking political correctness without slipping into offence. The persona’s strong – like an authentic version of Al Murray’s Pub Landlord – though he could do with a few pointers on microphone technique, with his heavy exhaling making him seem less in control of the room and his material than he was. For he’s actually a confident act with decent gags and real prospects.

Next up, a deviant you could take home to mum. John Pendal has outré tales of life in the leather and PVC clubs of London’s gay scene but delivers them with consummate affability and charm. So when he opens the window on an subterranean world of S&M adventures most people will never experience, it’s not for cheap smut, high camp, or manufactured outrageousness, just a personable bloke sharing his unusual experiences. He might not have so many killer punchlines, but his anecdotes are interesting and entertaining in equal measure.

‘Wolverine!’ came the cry as Pete Beckley came to the stage, potentially robbing him of any ‘who I look like…’ material. But he’s not so obvious to go down that route, instead presenting himself as an all-too-convincing weirdo who just doesn’t fit into the world. Something of a stalwart of the lower-middle reaches of the circuit, Beckley tonight owned that oddball personality with the strangulated voice better than ever. As he shared stories of working in IT or his take on phrases such as ‘I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire’ (unfortunately the basis one of Richard Herring’s more familiar routines too), his set also became more about persona than punchlines. But, again, it’s a distinctive face he presents to the world that stands him in good stead.

One of the more genuinely senior members of tonight’s line-up, the single-named Palan cut an affable  grandfatherly presence talking of his Sri Lankan routes and his 40-year marriage, even if exaggerating the drudgery of the latter did place him firmly in an old-school style of comedy. Delivered in a near-depressed deadpan, there was little in the set that was gold – although maybe competitions like this could encourage stronger writing from a man audiences instinctively warm to.

Next came Rycroft as his well-upholstered Labour grandee: a credible, rounded character who drops in clichés about ‘ordinary hardworking people’ with a knowing wink rather than a political sledgehammer. The fact that he’s nominally a left-winger is a point of difference, too, rather than the easier caricature of mocking rapacious Tories. His set was both astute and ultra-topical, the risk of using freshly minted material on a relatively high-profile gig more than paying off because of the stinging relevance of asides about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership woes.  Magnus Turner not only gets my vote, he’ll have a career that will outlast 90 pre cent of real politician’s, especially in today’s fevered Westminster atmosphere.

Closing the first half was Kelly Kingham, bouncing out with the jaunty, tiggerish enthusiasm of a children’s TV presenter, issuing camp, giddy giggles at his own high spirits. The animated energy, it slowly transpires, is just the upswing of his mania, and there’s a dark undertow to some of his material, which he tries to nervously laugh off. The affected delivery might have its Marmite qualities, but is pretty compelling – and not at the expense of some sharp jokes. Judges – myself included – awarded him the bronze.

After the break, Boyce Bailey boomed on to the stage, with a bold, theatrical delivery – moaning about his lot in life but with an inherent confidence. However much of the content about him hating kids, seemed pedestrian, with little to distinguish it from many other comics – or indeed real people – making similar complaints. His Japanese wife’s misunderstanding of British cultural touchstones adds something a little different, but ultimately the writing was rather  ordinary, even if he performed it like a pro.

Next up, Claire Parker made a lot of how very smart she was being  in doing a quantum physics joke – even though her idea of Erwin Schrodinger opening a box on Deal Or No Deal would be pretty elementary among those comics who specialise in geek comedy. Another large portion of her set  revolves around the laziness of her feckless teenage son, an extended metaphor that doesn’t go much beyond the stereotypes.

The glammed-up proud cougar of Pam Ford is certainly a force of nature, full of Aussie bluster and indiscreet gossip from the land that brought us Muriel’s Wedding and Kath & Kim, all of which similarly ramped up camp suburban okker excess. She’s shy on material – but that’s the only time that adjective could be used against her, in an enjoyably wayward set that brings to mind a drunken gossip with an over-the-top friend. A guilty-pleasure encounter that’s a fun burst of wild energy once in a while, but would be too much every night of the week.

Elizabeth Mee comes from well-heeled Richmond in Surrey, though you would be forgiven for thinking she comes from the 1950s Light Service, with her cut-glass pronunciation and elegant airs. Some of her set-ups equally seem rooted in the past, such as her respectfully suggesting oxymorons, even if they are clever ones. She successfully mines her class for laughs, even it the likes of the pretentious names of well-heeled sprogs is something of a cliche; while elsewhere a reliance on the juxtaposition of posh accent talking about the likes of vajazzles is a bit thin. Yet she has a well-defined character, rich with possibilities, and by packing in the jokes, some of which are rather neat, makes for a set that’s as rich as she is.

Georgia Thorp did not have a great gig. Her clumsy metaphor of the Brexit vote having an effect on halloumi cheese  fell flat, before routines about her Cypriot family and her lesbianism rested heavy on stereotypes, and seemed more chatty than a well-honed set.

The running order had been chosen at random, but it turned out they saved the best til last with Joe Bor’s super-privileged alter-ego of Jasper Cromwell-Jones, who combined rock-solid jokes about his elevated social status with crowd work proving his superiority and a book-reading from his fictional autobiography in which he recalled being banged up in a Columbian jail with drugs gangs… and getting on with them through the force of sheer English chumminess. 

Plummy-voiced bantz merchants are ripe for mockery, but strong writing means Bor goes beyond cheap disdain and into a well-rounded parody. As JCJ himself would say: Legend. And a deserved winner.

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Published: 5 Jul 2016

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2004

Pam Ford: My Life Is A Circus


Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Pam Ford: All Legs and Ladders


Edinburgh Fringe 2012

Pam Ford's Salon Secrets


Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Pam Ford Happy in Your Skin Too


Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Pam Ford: Pants and Pantsability


Agent

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