Comedy HayDay

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

It is hard to imagine any other critic being awarded their own farewell show, but Time Out magazine’s comedy editor Malcolm Hay, pictured, occupies a unique position. His lengthy tenure at the magazine helped shape the London comedy circuit, and, by extension the rest of the UK’s thriving and mutable scene.

Tonight’s celebration, was pulled together by the ‘very experienced’ (Malcolm’s adjectives having long become an affectionate in-joke among comics) Ivor Dembina, and offered a cheerful set of comedy samples from the last 20 odd years.

It would be almost rude to ask anyone other than Arthur Smith to MC such a night, so the gravel-voiced one stepped up to the mark in thready shorts and teacher’s jacket, with equally well-worn material. There would possibly be questions asked in the House if he didn’t mention his signing-on days, and tonight was not the time to introduce new routines, so managing to sound relaxed and slightly irritable at the same time he introduced ‘lively’ Omid Djalili.

Omid is all about performance, and he tactfully lit the blue touchpaper, getting us off to a good start, without tearing the arse out of the gig, leaving nothing for anyone else. Starting off with his Iranian shtick, he managed to touch on the hanging of Saddam Hussein without making it distasteful.

His joy at bad puns and knock-knock jokes would would be childish in less capable hands, but acknowledging a corny joke with a burst of song just charmed the audience. Gliding from accent to accent, Omid got mileage out of standards like the Nigerian traffic warden, but with a refreshing change of direction. He made the audience laugh and unwind and set a warm tone for the first half.

Up next, Josie Long made gaucheness and naïvity into positive attributes. She still has the aura of a 15-year-old class eccentric, talking about a crisis of confidence, learning to love your weaknesses and playing battleships.

Her declared aim of being honest rather than concise and funny might make you fear for the comedy, but it was definitely there. You don’t get clobbered into submission with Josie, she spins the humour from her own vulnerability, with several false exits and triumphant emphases (sounding oddly like Daniel Kitson) seeming to signal the end of her set. Her awkwardness was offset by a very genuine joie de vivre and unshowy intelligence.

Scott Capurro, who Arthur Smith called ‘the epitome of waspishness’, lived up to his epithet like a hornet at picnic. His dark and sexual material caused a few backs to straighten and some nervous tittering. Sweeping across Catholicism, fancying the crucified Christ as masturbation aid, a ‘hot Jew on a stick’, British anti-Semitism, war-mongering and the Chinese, he could not have been any more determined to shake up the cuddly atmosphere.

His glee at putting the boot into political correctness made for some uncomfortable moments, redeemed by a splendid double-edged joke about Chinese women drivers where you couldn’t choose which part to be more offended by. His phrase ‘I can say this’ allowed him to be spectacularly offensive. How wonderful for him that his sexuality grants permission to go to town on his own prejudices.

His piece on his reading of the Koran drew some shocked laughter. However, his smooth delivery and sheer delight in playing the bad guy, and the fact that this all done in the name of comedy, just about kept the crowd with him. You know the material’s pungent when other comics say ‘he doesn’t need to be so offensive!’

The second half of the show moved up a gear with a succinct set of splendid comedy songs from ‘hugely entertaining’ Mitch Benn. He covered murdering James Blunt (nods of approval), ‘I Want An African Baby’ which he acknowledged was satirical seven months ago and knocked off a single-use-only song in praise of the Time Out critic.

The great thing about Mitch Benn is that his music enhances the comedy rather than replacing it as so often happens with other musical acts. He’s as skilled musically as he is lyrically. James Blunt would probably like to murder him.

The high point of the evening now, Mark Thomas took 23 minutes to tell an anecdote about repeatedly applying for permission to demonstrate from the indefatigable Sergeant Paul McAnally from Charing Cross police station. The recounting of an accumulation of events, from a one-man protest, to mixing it with 80 anarchists and 800 police outside Parliament and gaining the protection of the officer in charge cannot be done justice here; it was a wonderful piece of storytelling, full of vitality and variety with deftly sketched characters that brought the house down.

There was only one man to follow that kind of performance, and that was Al Murray’s Pub Landlord. With an audience primed to join in with a call and response routine, something that would strike fear into most contemporary comics, it was clear that the Guv’nor’s purpose was to lead us into familiar jingoistic territory.

What keeps this character exciting and entertaining is the light and shade in the performance. While the roaring, puffing, snorting, twitching landlord seemed almost on the point of emotional disintegration, the calmer dissection of the lives of the sacrificial lambs in the front row evokes references from Oedipus to the ‘youth of today’ being too daft to lie about their age in a pub. Rounding off the night with a demented rendition of Incy Wincy Spider as an anthem to British pluck and determination, Al Murray bludgeoned the audience into timid participation.

As leaving bashes go, Malcolm Hay’s had a wonderful, if telescoped, view of 20 years of comedy and the event succeeded in being warm without bogus sentimentality.

Reviewed by: Julia Chamberlain
July 18, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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