XS Malarkey, October 20, 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

The one thing lacking from the regular XS Malarkey night held during the Manchester Comedy Festival was a lack of festival spirit. It’s an excellently run club that always attracts a savvy crowd, so audience attentiveness is pretty much guaranteed, but it turned out to be a night that was gently enjoyable rather than raucously hilarious.

That atmosphere started with regular compere Toby Hadoke’s opening comments. Or polemic, as we should probably call it. Understandably narked with Jan Moir’s insidiously homophobic and innuendo-laden Daily Mail column about Stephen Gately’s death, he read it out almost line for line, with bitterly sarcastic commentary. A few asides were sharply funny, but that wasn’t really the issue: he had a point to make and if he couldn’t make it at his own gig, where could he? More message than comedy, but that’s what the acts are here to provide…

The rest of the line-up kicked off with a triptych of Manchester new acts being given the chance to shine, starting with the young and distinctive looking Red Redmond. In tartan trousers and black-and-white scarf, jagged crop of unruly ginger hair and tiny ukulele he certainly cuts a quirky, studenty figure.

Unfortunately, though idiosyncratic in manner, the material was less memorable, starting with an unambitiously crude songs featuring such juvenile rhyming couplets as ‘He made him cum/right up his bum’. This makes way for a routine about the aphorism: ‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’, which is long-winded and unfocussed, and finally a ditty about Americans’ supposed lack of irony. A couple of lines here do come from an unexpected direction, but he largely struggles to get clear gags across succinctly.

Likeable Liam Timms also suffers from long-windedness, apparently oblivious to the fact that economy of words is crucial to comedy. His subjects, from movie trailers to Facebook, don’t inspire, and while he’s nice enough company, there needs to be more substance to his set.

Peter Brush has a couple of very nice lines, in the same inventive wordplay style as Milton Jones or Stewart Francis. Yet he often gets too obtuse and abstract, especially in the more extended jokes, making the audience struggle to follow his train of thought with too little reward if you did stick with him. But in the pithier moments, he certainly shows promise.

On, then, to the more established acts. I last saw Jonathan Paylor in this very room exactly three years ago, with an almost word-for-word identical set. That he’s stagnated in that time is disappointing, as there’s certainly room for improvement in a routine that’s moderately amusing, but far from perfect.

His angle that he is both gay and a football fan – and not once does he do an old switcheroo gag by making us think he’s talking about one of these traits when it’s really the other. Then there’s the reaction of his gay friends to his soccer obsession – preparing quiche for the big match – then obligatory gags about David Seaman’s surname. You might have thought the joke would have worn off in the 21 years since he made his England debut and five years since he retired from football altogether.

The rest of his set involves whining about things that are a bit rubbish and, well, chavvy: from Netto to baked bean pizzas in a routine that’s more about his dismissively deriding attitude than brilliantly-crafted punchlines, though there are a couple of fine jokes here. But despite a few tantalising glimpses of something deeper. there’s a tendency to settle for the easy, obvious sneers just as there’s a tendency to settle for this mid-level set.

Headliner Mick Ferry probably relies more on personality than material, too, though his stereotypically Northern attitude of revelling in the slightly disappointing nature of his ordinary life proves appealing. So it is tonight, as he bemoans the lot of the stand-up spending lonely, drunken nights in hotels, of the inertia that keeps him in a long-term relationship while daydreaming about his partner’s death, and about aging in general.

He wobbled on this last point, falsely believing the youngish crowd XS attracts from its location in Manchester’s studenty Fallowfield district wouldn’t be able to relate to a 41-year-old man.

But he needn’t worry, there’s nothing in his set that’s inaccessible – although his fears caused him to stray from his set pieces and, ironically, lose some of the crowd that way instead; and in the end a set running for around 45 minutes proved a little too much at the end of a longish night, and concentration flagged from performer and audience alike.

Review date: 21 Oct 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Manchester Bread Shed

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