A Seriously Funny Attempt To Get The SFO in The Dock

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Last night’s benefit, organised by indefatigable Mark Thomas in an attempt to prove that the Serious Fraud Office acted unlawfully when it dropped its corruption inquiry into BAE Systems dealings with Saudi Arabia, drew a capacity crowd at the Apollo, Hammersmith.

Jo Caulfield opened the batting with some necessary club compering and chit chat as latecomers continued to stream in at every door and every level. Her grace with this thankless task drew in the crowd and gradually focused them with a mixture of standard ribbing of posh people in the front row (where posh is wearing a scarf ,as though properly going to the theatre), combined with tart material sneering at chavs in Argos.

Simon Amstell loped on, all gangly and bashful like Bambi doing comedy. His pertinent remarks about middle-lass consumer dilemmas – organic versus fair trade, boycotting known brand sweatshops whilst indulging those whose associations are more discreet, struck exactly the right note for this crowd. From sweatshops to slavery and the inconvenient but moralistic advice he receives from his pal at The Ecologist, he didn’t put a foot wrong with an amusing set about the conflicted modern conscience.

Ed Byrne swatted away the standard complimentary intro that he ‘oozes charm’ by acknowledging the ‘smarmy bastard’ other side of the coin. His set engaged with the right-wing American religious group God Hates Fags and their crushing, logic-defying prejudice. His ten minutes flew past without being hurried and it was a pleasure to hear his smart material on loss of faith, plus God’s inability to prevent the 9/11 carnage by making it a foggy day and grounding the aircraft.

Playing the special kid card rather too well, Josie Long disingenuously explained this was the biggest indoor crowd she’d ever played to, and was so conquering the urge to throw up. Her gushing simplicity was endearing enough, with but a long story about being ID’d at a pub and proving her maturity by liking olives and then enthusing about playing Battleships just wasn’t taggy enough for a short spot on a strong bill.

Jo Caulfield briskly brought up the atmosphere by referencing other mega benefits, the much derided Live Earth event and hero-turned-tosser Bono, whetting the audience’ appetite for more acerbic fare. They weren’t disappointed when Mark Steel took to the stage, with his cheerfully exasperated bloke in the pub persona – but a hundred times cleverer. Crowbarring John Pilger, Noam Chomsky and Richard Dawkins into a Big Brother joke takes real panache and roars of hilarity greeted his segment on a world-weary history teacher reminding us what lessons we learn from America getting involved international politics. He crammed several pointed and funny ideas into his ten minutes and I could happily have watched an hour of him.

An amazing amount of warmth greeted Omid Djalili’s appearance on stage, the nation’s favourite Iranian status having been conferred a while back. With a range of material from the wonderfully silly ‘flumf flumf’ joke to the mock serious ‘getting racism out of football’ he then achieved the seemingly impossible by making execution funny and closed the first half on a high.

Phil Nichol compered part two, attracting massive applause for his inbred Yank impersonation and getting his arse out He introduced Mark Thomas, who kept his humorous remarks short, sweet and topical with some pithy observations about Northern Rock before he introduced the serious two minutes of the show, courtesy of Nick Hilliard, a career protester of the articulate and organised kind.

Phil Nichol’s Amsterdam stories of hysterical indulgence and clubbing contrasted nicely with Robin Ince’s riled response to Daily Mail journalism and his splendid notion of their ‘magic eye’ headlines and shameless use of Princess Diana to flog a few more copies. Ince’s sharp material about science and evolution being pitted against the dopey notions of the intelligent design crew was supported, for no obvious reason, by an accordionist. Funny enough already.

What can you say about Stewart Lee? His measured, dignified delivery was absolutely compelling, his routines are beautifully structured and rewarding, he made the audience hang on his every word, because every word was made to count, there’s no rambling, it’s mathematically precise and elegant comedy.

Marking time until the arrival of the so-called feature act, Phil Nichol brought out his splendid, vintage club standard Gay Eskimo song and then on came Russell Brand, who must surely be getting ready for a panto career sometime soon, dressing already like a principle boy, striding and swaggering about the stage and all but slapping his thigh.

Acknowledging the ‘nice, benign atmosphere’ he was keen to recap on what we were raising awareness of and for so that he could understand it, before plunging into his enthusiasm for hearing someone making a gagging sound during fellatio. If he sounded even slightly more macho, there would probably have been a comment about offensiveness, but his fey, cockneyfied delivery somehow neutralised the aggression of the image the idea conjured.

People had obviously come to see him over and above the rest of the bill – calling out catchphrases and indicating knowledge of running jokes, but to his credit he nipped that in the bud, didn’t indulge himself in grandstanding and graciously made way for a surprise extra guest.

To the delight of the audience Bill Bailey popped in from Riverside Studios and closed the show with a couple of deadly amusing musical jokes and sharing comments from the local hoodies and his three-year-old son.

As is the nature of these things, it was a long evening, but it cracked along with some fine sharp, cynical comedy which made me hunger to see most of these acts out and about more often.

Reviewed by: Julia Chamberlain
Hammersmith, Sept 23, 3007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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