Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden - Men In Beige

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

As an elder statesman of British comedy, Barry Cryer’s earned the right to do pretty much what he damn well likes. And his collaborations with Ronnie Golden, which started in 2002, allow him to indulge the fantasy many a stand-up harbours: to be a rock-and-roll singer.

And to be fair, this timeless 72-year-old has a fine pair of lungs on him, belting out such wry tracks as Bim Bam Boom, We Were There and the wonderfully ironic Peace And Quiet with the oomph of a singer a third of his age. He may not be pitch-perfect, but he more than makes up for it in vigour, and Golden proves a skilful and boisterous musical accompaniment.

Only problem is, even after five years of this act, this ‘rock of ages’ doesn’t seem to be quite what his audience wants. This understandably older bunch give the songs a warm enough reception, but what you suspect they’re really after is the corny one-liners of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, not this musical malarkey.

And it’s fairly standard musical comedy fare; using the old trick of letting power of rhythm to compensate for modest wit. And yes, the old last-minute pull-away from a rude-word rhyme is used not once, but twice – with neither ‘Pollock’ and ‘hit’ making the couplet you might once have expected. Although nowadays NOT making the rhyme is surely more common.

Yet there are also plenty of diamonds in this musical rough. The aforementioned Peace And Quiet is wonderfully ironic and annoyingly catchy; the Prescott tribute Big Fat John is a fine example of the gags in the lyrics matching the quality of the song; and Golden’s succession of funk, punk and gangsta rap tunes, as if covered by an old-school folk singer, are splendid juxtapositions.

In the build-up to this number, Cryer does what he does best: bombard the audience with gag after hackneyed gag. Fast and relentless come the one-liners, all recycled old nonsense from every bar and round-robin email in the land. Not that Cryer makes any apology for the fact, he revels in their very corniness, encouraging the groans as much as the laughs – or often a combination of the two.

This is stand-up’s equivalent to those ‘guilty pleasure’ disco nights, but instead of naff but catchy tunes, Cryer delivers naff but catchy jokes with the timing and the chutzpah of the seasoned pro he is.

He’s quite theatrical in getting the laugh, often not on the punchline but an extra syllable he adds, as if starting a new sentence that never happens. The overemphasised ‘but…’ gives breathing space for the gag, a clue to where the laugh should be, like a verbal rimshot on the drums.

It’s a definite technique but it works, that along with the fact that such good old-fashioned jokes prove devastatingly effective with an audience primed for such nonsense. And this is exactly what his crowd come to see.

There’s another example of it when during Golden’s song Drinking At Home (a number that would have doubtless proved more effective had the audience not heard it on tape as they filed into their seats), which the avuncular Cryer interrupts with yet another unremitting barrage of gags about various people, animals and freaks walking into pubs. They are timeless classics in both a good way and a bad, but the celebration of the joke form is what we’re here for.

It may not be big or clever, but it is funny – even if some of the weaker songs need to be pensioned off.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Brighton, October 2007

Review date: 1 Oct 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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