Raymond & Mr Timpkins Revue
Reginald D Hunter
Rev Obadiah Steppenwolf III
Roy Chubby Brown
Ruth E Cockburn
Covered the World Music Awards for BBC Two and Glastonbury for BBC Three
Regular host on Top Of The Pops
|Stand Up: 2005:
Supported Rory Bremner on his Uncorked Tour
|Stand Up: 2002:
Finalist in So You Think You're Funny.
So You Think You're Funny.
Set List: The Sky Atlantic Recording
Pity any poor bug that scuttled into the Bronx backyard of the nine-year-old Paul Provenza. The helpless insect would surely have been pinned down in the heat, squirming uncomfortably, their legs furiously scrambling at nothing, as he sadistically picked them apart to see how they ticked.
Forty-five years later, and the director of The Aristocrats, that definitive analysis of comic styles, is doing exactly the same to his fellow comedians, via the devilish contraption known as Set List.
The format, now familiar to any serious comedy fan after playing festivals around the world, is that stand-ups are presented with off-the-wall headings around which they must improvise a full routine. Provenza likens it to leaping out of a plane, the comedian needing faith that the parachute of their talent will open before it’s too late.
More than 60 years ago, a BBC radio producer called Ian Messiter had a similar idea, but added the restriction that contestants should speak without hesitation, repetition or deviation... but the rather more welcome rule that they need speak no longer than a minute, and could be interrupted. No such lifelines for the comedians here.
If The Aristrocrats was about ‘the singer not the song’, Set List is about the process not the punchlines. The fun is to watch the comics struggle towards something funny, unsure of what track to take.
The format – as devised by Troy Conrad before being championed by Provenza – has quickly become revered by the comedy congnoscenti. Comedians want to prove they are equal to the challenge, fans want to see something created out of nothing. After all, the most fantastic moments occur in stand-up when the performer goes off-script.
So it’s probably heresy to suggest that, in practice, the show isn’t always the most entertaining to watch. Because there’s necessarily the real possibility of failure, some of the acts do just that – even if they do so valiantly.
I’ve seen the show in three continents, and only about half the comics who boldly take on the task can claim a victory beyond survival (which some may argue is more than victory enough). But there must be something about the format – not to mention certainly the calibre of acts it attracts – that draws me back time and again.
The show, which returns to Edinburgh next month, has now been picked up as part of Sky Atlantic’s ever-increasing comedy slate; and is being recorded in London this week, with other episodes coming from the States. Last night’s stellar line-up was Rufus Hound, Todd Barry, Paul Foot and Reggie Watts – and the strike rate, in the first of the two recordings at least, was slightly above the international average.
Hound kicked us off, and made a few nimble mental leaps to create genuine jokes – plus one truly dreadful Star Wars pun – from the set-ups. But it would be a mistake to say he found it easy, not least when confronted not with more manageable topics such as ‘Soup Of The Year’, but the more obtuse ‘#’. When grasping for ideas, he frequently went into the audience, seeking to bounce off other people in the search for a punchline, and although it may have been touch-and-go at times, he pulled through.
Ultra-deadpan Barry had a more difficult time of things; largely grumbling in his laconic way about the impossibly odd phrases presented to him. Despite his slow delivery, he rattled through the cards, finding little to say about most, choosing instead to comment on the audience, the entire premise, or the cameraman at his feet.
Paul Foot struggled, too – though to be fair he probably had the most difficult of cards. Making ‘Birth Defectors’ funny is a certainly a tall order, and certainly beyond the range of his surreal flights of fantasy.
Yet he also proved a couple of points about what Set List is all about. For one he got laughs from apparently nothing – just grabbing the mic stand in a peculiar way, for example – proving that you can’t over-analyse something as ephemeral as funny bones.. And secondly he could capture victory from the jaws of defeat: a rambling discussion about clams that think for themselves seemed to be floating away into nothingness, until he snapped it back with a brilliantly warped payoff about mobile phones, which, momentarily at least, made sense of it all and gave him a triumphant way out. His parachute opened in the nick of time...
Finally, Reggie Watts, no stranger to improvising in his own shows, demonstrated how to nail it. Adopting a variety of impressively accurate laid-back accents – and barely touching the sampling technology that has become his trademark – he calmly and eloquently delivered lectures on the likes of racism etiquette schools or ‘mixtapeworm’. On paper, what he said possibly wouldn’t seem all that funny, but the gentle characterisation and the compelling conviction with which he spouted this realistic-sounding bullshit made it undeniably so.
Concessions for a TV recording were minimal... this was filmed as if in a comedy club, with the audience in a three-quarter circle around and above the stage, creating than that vital feeling of a mini-gladiatorial amphitheatre. When the show airs in the autumn, green room interviews with the comics before and after their set should also provide viewers more context than simply seeing comics flail and – sometimes – strike paydirt. But ultimately that is precisely what Set List is all about.
|Date of live review: Wednesday 11th Jul, '12|
Review by Steve Bennett
Monday 19th Sep, '11-
Sunday 25th Jul, '10-
Saturday 15th May, '10- Brighton Sea Life Centre
Friday 27th Nov, '09- London Movieum
Show - Misc live shows -
Wednesday 21st Aug, '02-
Rufus headlined Patrick Monahan and John Fothergill. They were excellent. Rufus seemed to be in a really bad mood with the audience. Not at all what I expected. Seemed to want an argument . Shame others were great. March 2012
Beginning his career aping Izzard, he now attempts a Stewart Lee impression while delivering his M&S cracker joke material. Careerist, mainstream goo and about as sincere as any conman.
I had the unfortunate experience of seeing Rufus Hound. You would get more laughs by watching an autopsy. How on earth can a deluded plank like this call himself a comedian?
What a waste of time it was seeing Rufus! A mate told me to come to it and said I would love his style! I didnt and my mate was cheesed off as well! What a waste of a evening! I feel robbed!
Wish I had read these comments before wasting my time staying for his headline rant yesterday. Fortunately the other acts were actually really good, enough said perhaps? I wondered if he was I'll or something was struggling through the evening, hence he forgot to include any funny bits in his dreary opinionated monolog. Turns out he treated us to the same act as Brighton! Don't waste your time and money, go for a curry instead!!!!
Komedia, Brighton..... Thank goodness Rufus Hound had been preceded by 2 very funny comedians else the audience would have been demanding a refund. I can't imagine Komedia were very impressed by him either. He was so bad - that I'm even taking time out to write a review. I'm not sure whether he had any material planned? The atmosphere in the club during his performance was, to put it politely, low - people were even commenting on the street. He needs to lose his arrogance, and construct some material that people find funny else he'll be exiting the public eye as quickly as he appeared.
Saw Rufus last night at the late show in Komedia (Brighton). What a complete waste of time that was. He was the last of the three comedians & made it fairly obvious he didn't want to be there. Didn't appear to have any sort of material prepared, so resorted to using one of the preceeding comedian's stuff, which ended up as a seriously offensive rant. When he'd milked that for all it was worth, he blatantly ran out of material & got booed off stage. Aside from making for quite uncomfortable viewing, his whole act was a complete waste of the audience's sat evening & hard earned cash - clearly only in it for the money. I seriously hope i never see him again!
By the sounds of it he is a good MC, but hideously boring if you have to listen to him talk about sucking cock for 30 minutes then basically ditching the jokes and talking about how depressing life is. I've seen him twice now and the material was as bad the second time. Thank god his support acts were good.
Celebrity Juice: Too Juicy for TV
Rufus Hound: Being Rude
Big Fat Gypsy Gangster