A nice idea for the Glasgow Comedy Festival, pitching newish local comics against the Aberdeen diaspora, with a couple of ringers from Edinburgh and Shetland. But the confrontation element was limited to a game of Mastermind and an audience member seemingly having a breakdown, interrupting closing act Les Sinclair with a cry of ‘Giblets! Giblets! Giblets!’ to general bafflement before sloping off harmlessly into the night.
In fairness to him, two hours was much too long for a bill that prioritised stage time for anyone who wanted it over the crowd’s stamina. Having brought the gig to a satisfying end with a faithful recreation of the TV quiz, the comics treating it with the irreverence it deserved (Ed Whitley confirming his unhinged, over-excited shtick with a specialist subject of ‘The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the original Gameboy), compere Rod Hunter surprised everyone by announcing another interval and a further comic, Sinclair.
Hunter is an amiable host, but he treats a failed gag as his signal to bring another act up, a poisoned chalice that fortunately, had no great effect on a free gig full of forgiving students.
Up first, Ben Watson gave an object lesson in style over substance. His promised ‘great invention’ turned out to be nothing of the sort and no great comedic conceit either. But he has an instant, brazen likeability that sells his humour, the sort of front that finds him defying the recession to seek a second job he doesn’t need, just to ace the interview.
Recalling the bullshit-spouting character of Spud in Trainspotting, he takes the vague, CV clichés such as being ‘a team player’ and offers amusingly concrete, mundane examples. Two solid routines, job done, he immediately quits the stage with a broad smile on his face.
Adam Struth is similarly engaging, a lanky Glaswegian with an easy delivery. The day’s unusually warm weather is his cue to muse on the acceptability of Scots wearing sunglasses, before an effective pull back and reveal. Frustratingly, there are three more of these in quick succession, and while they go down well, he’ll need more variety for longer slots. A witty, closing observation on the grass-is-greener merits of sex and masturbation suggests he has the potential.
Iain Todd starts promisingly, wringing plenty of laughs from the absurdity of Sky TV sending him his solitary Valentine’s Day card for their 3D service, before a withering line about which three dimensions could improve Disney’s current cinematic megaflop John Carter. A quip about Orville the Duck deserved a better reception than it received, a stark reminder to assess your crowd’s youth. But he died horribly with a routine about signing visitor’s books, which was a mess of underwritten ideas with no place at the end of his set.
Highlight of the evening was the reliable James Kirk. Blessed with a pudgy, squat frame, bright ginger hair and the acting talent to exploit his physicality, his persona is that of an awkward but chirpy young man out of his depth whenever he leaves the house struggling to express himself as an ill-at-ease stand-up. This is less compelling when he complicates the character, as in his misfiring intro, when he dares to offer a critique on comics who start with the line ‘I know what you’re thinking’, baffling an udience yet to get a read on who he is.
Notwithstanding his signature routine about Jay Z’s 99 problems – which revels in the incongruity of him applying serious thoughts to the hip-hop mogul’s travails but which seems hackier each time you hear it – he was brilliant, establishing a cosy, insular world that he suddenly obliterates with a pitch black punchline and raised eyebrow, his initial, chortling good humour about ginger jokes being a prime example.
Like Joe Wilkinson, you could plant him in most sitcoms ad hoc and he’d get laughs simply from being there. But his writing is consistently improving, routines about the magpie version of Antiques Roadshow and the drinking game Schindler’s Pished impressively exceeding their initial hilarity.
After the break, came gig organiser Chris Stephen. A clipped anecdote about the rough reputation of Fraserburgh was amusing if by-the-numbers. But he deserved a better response for a smart gag about a phone sex documentary. Elsewhere, he presumed too much familiarity with the Contact system of mobile phone credit card payments, and rather cliquely, Glasgow’s comedy scene, exemplified by his tale of being mistaken for James Kirk.
Scott Brown challenges the notion that Scots are unintelligible to the rest of the UK, by revealing he’s lived in Aberdeen for years and still struggles to understand the natives. Affecting a cynical, disdainful worldview, he finds minor irritations reason enough to hate film director Tim Burton and berates Harry Potter fans for their immaturity. He nails these and his mockery of Aberdeen’s parochial local paper, The Evening Express, with proficiency. But the effect is predictable and underwhelming. What’s more, his closer, about the recent headline ‘Gordon Ramsay’s Dwarf Porn Double Found Dead In A Badger Den In Wales’, was long ago revealed to be an internet fairytale.
Big, fond of absurdity and with more than a hint of menace, Glaswegian Jordan RA Mills (Mastermind specialist subject: Iron Maiden) is another rookie with potential. The punchlines don’t always land fully but he embraces the weird when he finds it and invents it when he doesn’t, crafting creative takes on such mundane topics as the clocks going forward.
Joe Waterfield favours high-concept and commendably high-risk stand-up, which works well on an extended skit confusing self-deprecation with a similar-sounding word, a concept he pushes just far enough not to outstay its welcome. Plotting the queen’s body image over a lifetimes’ coin minting isn’t as successful though, its tortuousness exacerbated by this slight, nerdy figure blokeishly extolling the ageing monarch’s sex appeal. With the right execution he might have something but it needs sharpening up.
Whitley rushes on stage with a bright red trombone and the eagerness of a born show-off. Barking ‘Yeah!’ for affirmatmation like a cocksure headliner at the O2, he recalls his time at St Andrews University with sly glee, dismissing our heir to the throne with ‘Willy was a sex pest!’.
His Tiggerish exuberance would probably get him punched in most high streets. But he’s got some winning prop gags and a great one-liner about what being a ‘colourful character’ actually entails. It’ll be fascinating to see whether he can sustain longer sets without exhausting those watching.
Finally, after the Mastermind digression, Sinclair took the stage. A straightforward, ever-so-slightly old-school comic, his insights into the sheltered Shetland Islands contain the virtually obligatory incest reference. He too likes to mock his local rag, has an inexplicable routine about having to pee through his shirt, some dire wordplay and a clunking topical joke about embattled former Rangers owner Craig Whyte.
But he’s also got a lovely take on Scotland’s recent ‘Hurricane Bawbag’. And to his enormous credit, he took the ‘giblets’ barrage in his stride.