Leicester Comedy Festival 2007 Preview Show

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Festivals seem to come around quicker than wasps around a bottle of cherryade these days. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Leicester Comedy festival had arrived faster than usual this year but then it doesn’t actually start until a good three weeks after this special preview event.

Now in its 14th year, it is one of the significant events in the comedy calendar, managing to attract comedy royalty from all kingdoms. Last year it enticed the grande dame of the American sitcom Rosanne Barr over, and though this year lacks such a coup, the line-up - including the likes of Russell Brand, Sean Hughes and Tim Minchin - is coup enough.

The preview show, hosted by a prince of the festival scene, Jason Byrne, proved a fine sample of the talent to come. Byrne kicked off by congratulating people for being able to drag themselves away from the telly when Jade Goody was to be evicted from Big Brother amid much furore. The theme was inevitably repeated throughout the night, even leading to Byrne’s finale featuring a dance to Sade’s Smooth Operator with an eleven year old boy from the front row.

Up first was another festival darling, Russell Howard. What makes Howard create such a buzz are his ordinary-seeming stories that are revealed to be invested with a unique rich turn of phrase and oddball edge. Unsurprising from the kind of brain, as he explained, that is more likely to be drawn to experimenting as to how many Weetabix you can fit in a bowl rather than doing any actual work.

Next up was Shappi Khorsandi, one of the few Iranian acts on the circuit whose her bi-cultural perspective on Britain provides much material particularly when coupled with her acerbic tongue.

The magnificently bumbling and malaproping Count Arthur Strong began with the superbly simple but possibly the funniest gags of the night when he explained that he was intending to perform his famous ‘memory man act that I do’ but he couldn’t find his orange turban; the turban from under which he spoke.

Topping and Butch topped off the first half with their usual innuendo-led humour and well-executed song. Though the comedy isn’t groundbreaking the combination of music with great dollops of silliness reek of fun.

Into the second half and the pace slowed a little. Dan Clark was enjoyably whimsical but the gags were slow and not quite strong enough. Local lad Jim Smallman had an impressive stage presence for one so new, holding his own amongst pros – even if some of his punchlines were as easy to see coming as an orange anorak. Nevertheless he has great potential.

John Ryan’s was a pedestrian set with some rather stock subject such as the female orgasm given a thorough but ordinary seeing to, he’s nonetheless a crowd pleaser whose cheery chappy style is easy to warm to.

With the arrival of Arnab Chanda, the pace picked up again. His multicultural perspective of being Indian born in Yorkshire and having lived in Saudi Arabia was used to great effect. Creating lovely yet slightly cruel images such as the cast at his multi-ethnic International School production of the Sound of Music musing on why the Nazis might have it in for them.

Rounding off the night, Rhod Gilbert, like Howard who had kicked off the show, invests his stories with a surreal edge that sets him apart. Acting the bewildered Welshman who had just stumbled by accident from his native Wales, he played at being bemused by the comparative lack of rain elsewhere in the UK and other such English mysteries.

With the festival shows properly plugged; the only thing that remained was the much threatened Sade finale where Byrne showed himself to be a Smooth Operator indeed.

Reviewed by: Marissa Burgess
Leicester, January 19, 2006

The Leicester Comedy Festival runs from February 9 to 18.Website.

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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