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C4 Comedy Gala at the O2, London

Review by Julia Chamberlain

Great Ormond Street Hospital will have been thrilled to bits with this monsters of UK comedy bill, and a very nearly packed-out O2. Promoters Off the Kerb presented a phenomenal line-up for Channel 4, with only a couple of stellar absentees from the line-up, and even they got namechecked.

Using the format of different hosts for each section and comedian or comedy actor guests popping up to introduce each other, plus video inserts, nobody could say they would have hoped for more acts – like the all prestigious comedy benefits, this ran for over three hours and might have been none the worse for a bit of pruning.

Starting the evening with a montage of clips of acts we were about to see was a good bum settler, although more than a couple of comics used some of the same material on stage as had already been seen in the 30 second clips. However such is the excitable atmosphere, the audience – if they noticed – didn’t collectively bat an eyelid.

Spectacularly noisy bin-lid dance company Stomp delivered an energising start to the show, with Alan Carr tipped from a wheelie bin to host the first section. The audience adored his increasingly self-parodic shrieks, pouts and posturing. You really can get away with murder if you’ve been seen on the television a lot.

Jason Manford, svelte, smart and with the northern button turned down, whisked through some popular observations on shower gel, buying petrol and swimming pool floats to kick off the comedy, followed by Jo Brand’s amusingly jaundiced take on marriage, birth and children. Neither of them were alone in not pushing any comedic envelopes, but five minutes on a gala requires your banker material.

Sean Lock got mileage from Michael Jackson with a brilliant and crude joke about the O2 and Lisa Marie Presley, plus some fresh observations about DVD warnings. He really looked unfazed by the size of the gig.

Jonathan Ross introduced the next few acts with his usual blend of ego and charm, Kevin Bridges was comfortable being a Glaswegian in London and really won the audience over, it felt like a clubby gig, quite a feat in this space. Patrick Kielty, looking as dinky as a blonde Tom Cruise had the balls to use some surprisingly dark material getting some mildly shocked reaction, which contrast with his squeaky-clean appearance.

Rob Brydon, looking uncomfortable and Gok Wan introduced a video insert and then Andy Parsons with some splendid, subtle politically orientated stuff. Mark Watson was charmingly gawky but seemed understandably awed by the size of the gig. He then did a bit about not saying ‘cunt’ at such a gig, when Jonathan Ross had just invited the audience to roar the word, which slightly undermined what Watson was doing. But he had such sympathy from the audience it didn’t matter.

The surprising inclusion of Katie Price and Alex Reid (really, why?) to introduce an act drew some hostile boos and a bit of a patronising spat between them didn’t endear them to the crowd. However Alex Reid sprinting back to chase Michael McIntyre across the stage after a rather sneering remark certainly got him a couple more popularity points.

What can you say about McIntyre? The Dome practically flexed with the volume of cheering when he was announced and he brought us into the long awaited interval with some chippy remarks about morning television, Christian feasting and Google Earth. It’s all very inclusive and silly and he makes a virtue of the mundane as he tears around the stage grinning like the Cheshire cat

The second half really took off with Bill Bailey and Kevin Eldon doing some fabulous musical comedy, which is what you’d expect, but it looked good and slick, sounded fantastic and was huge fun as it covered Kraftwerk, Wham!, Leonard Cohen, the Wurzels.

Poor One Show presenter Christine Bleakely was clearly uncomforable with a vile, predatory character act called Terry Tibbs from Fonejacker, which momentarily affected the atmosphere in the room, but that blip was forgotten with the marvelous, surly Jack Dee, who realised we were all sick of being asked if we were having a good time and comments about what a big gig it was. Five minutes of his bilious remonstrating with the world is as good as a weekend break.

Shappi Khorsandi had a very personal set on children and relationships and bit on iPhone adultery. Every inch the glamourpuss, her complaint against the mistress in the iPhone didn’t quite ring true, but was a good idea.

Cath Tate’s Filthy Nan introduced Noel Fielding, with a blond ‘do’ that made him look like he was in an 80s production of Cats. His prowling and dancey moves did nothing to challenge that image. Always ready with a surreal or cute image, he really hit he spot on the etiquette of whispering.

James Corden and Ruth Jones in character as Gavin and Stacey’s Smithy and Nessa chavved it up and introduced John Bishop, with a great story of mistaken identity and hanging out with ‘slebs’. Like many of the others he didn’t miss the opportunity to promote a programme and a tour he’s doing, which might make for a difficult edit!

The next host was David Mitchell, reassuringly middle class and modest, who brought through Jack Whitehall, fizzing with youth and energy with a sparkling set that included bankers and Robert Mugabe. Rich Hall, at ease with the wide open space in front of him was comfortable enough to belittle the O2 and went to town on the new American healthcare system including the contemptible nature of Kraft cheese and the implications for British chocolate – this wasn’t easy ‘mention brand names for a laugh’ comedy, there was a proper point to be made and it was done with customary grumpy grace.

With the audience clinging on for the bitter end, the closing act Lee Evans just blew the room apart. The only one who was really allowed to make full use of the stage and lighting, he opened with a musical mime in a cone of white light that was truly dramatic. It’s stating the blindingly obvious to mention his energy, which sends him skeetering around, limbs flailing, every muscle working in opposition with its neighbour, he seems almost tormented with stuttering tics, every expression changing faster than light on water.

In the best sense of the words, he is a pantomime clown, summoning memories of old films, I almost felt I was watching him in black and white, seeing glimpses of Jerry Lewis, Norman Wisdom and so many more, he springs from and crowns a long and honourable tradition of physical comedy. The coup of the night was his receiving a life-time achievement award from Channel 4, which he promptly sold for charity.

It was an extraordinary night, from a good seat at the front. Watching from 800 yards away on the giant screens with a sound delay was probably less entrancing, and you couldn’t but be aware of the sound echoing at the ends of lines. For the charity it is marvellous to have so many acts chipping in five minutes (I haven’t even mentioned the most of the video inserts here), and goes some way to justifying the high cost of entry at this high end venue.But for comedy experience, a pared-back show with the top four or five acts would have been even better and less draining experience. Watch it on TV on Easter Monday – or better still buy the DVD when it comes out on April 26(Buy) and pick bits when you’ve got the time.

Posted: 31 Mar 2010

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