Brighton Comedy Festival 2010 gala

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

As far as pulling power goes, you couldn’t have assembled a much more high-profile bill to launch the Brighton Comedy Festival than this, with the BBC’s favourite comedian Michael McIntyre headlining a night compered by Channel 4’s favourite one, Alan Carr. In such stellar company, fine acts such as Tommy Tiernan or Simon Evans are reduced to mere filler.

The big guns both know a media phenomenon when they spot one, too, with both getting laughs from mere mention of X-Factor’s Gamu. Carr is rather better on low culture, though, as he feels like a natural follower of such talent-show drama, even if only as a fuel for his arch sarcasm. His own failings are mocked with distain, too, even in something as relatively straightforward as describing drunken behaviour, the innate wir shine through.

There’s not much in the way of finely crafted material on show tonight nor as host was there much call for it. But Carr is proof positive that it’s not what you say, but the way that you say it, uniting the audience in his catty indiscretion.

McIntrye – greeted, as you might expect, with deafening applause – typically sought laughs in the everyday: spectacles, mouldy bread, Activia yoghurt. He sometimes falls foul of that familiar criticism that he’s saying the blindingly obvious without much spin: there’s surely no more comic mileage that can be wrung from personal injury lawyers adverts, while the disingenuity of those Windows 7 campaigns that suggest stealth internet browsing is for anything other than porn is so apparent it barely needs mentioning.

But when he articulates things that are universally true, but largely unobserved, that’s where he shines, bringing each topic to life with skilful and robust technique. Even though everyone is now so aware of his over-dramatic tics and tricks, they are almost self-parody, such delivery does sell this hard-to-execute observational comedy effectively.

Even so, McIntrye, like any comic, is still more interesting when talking from unique personal experience such as telling bedtime stories on CBeebies rather than seeking to push the buttons of widespread recognition, even though that’s his forte.

The evening started with another comic who trades on ‘relateablity’, local lad Seann Walsh. His persona is more of a shambles… a lazy, frequently drunk video gamer wrestling with the world. But everyone’s found themselves in similar embarrassing situations he so evocatively describes, and the result is a steadfastly enjoyable set. His impersonation of the murmur of voices in another room when you’re trying to sleep – a new addition to his set – is particularly strong.

Another much-tipped up-and-comer, Andi Osho, similarly sought laughs in the familiar. Even if her Nigerian family background gives it a slight spin, her childhood anecdotes about everything from tearfully coming off your bike to parents doling out an intimidating telling-off will resonate with most people. She’s sometimes guilty of playing things a little safe – especially when her a charming presence could be used to push slightly more interesting material – but as an enticing teaser to draw people to her assured debut solo show later in the festival, job done.

Phil Nichol’s 20-minute set is an irresistible tsunami of manic energy, rampaging across the stage as a demented hillbilly, T-shirt over his head and exposing a Grand Canyon of builder’s cleavage, before zipping into a cacophony of other accents, from the granite-hard Glaswegian to the sing-song threats of a Cockney geezer. Even though it’s well-practised, the routine never loses its element of unpredictable danger. While its intensity and ferocity mock-terrorises an intimate club, it isn’t diminished in a room the size of this 2,000-seat Dome. The song which concludes his set, You Can’t Say That To Me, is a tongue-in-cheek reactionary riposte to political correctness… but even liberal Brighton is won over by its force.

Follow that.

One of the few people who could is Irish powerhouse Tommy Tiernan, who brilliantly encapsulated the dramatic change in tone with the off-the-cuff comment that his set would be ‘like trying to read a book after being on a roller-coaster’. But Tiernan is intense, too, in thought as well as delivery. Here he mused on appropriate sexual behaviour for a man of his fortysomething years, the pointless mass of showbiz trivia occupying his brain and the pitfalls of taking a seven-year-old to a football match. A largely controversy and fury-free set for a man whose mouth often lands him in trouble, but none the less gripping for it. He’s a comic who knows his own mind… and, better yet, knows how to express it with fine comic eloquence.

After the interval, the magnificent Simon Evans deigned us with his aloof presence and precise, sardonic wit, dripping distain from every perfectly pronounced word. And what words… his haughty vocabulary perfectly emphasising such a perfectly smug, high-status position you’d think him worthy of leading the Conservative Party. An appearance on Mr McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and a well-received and long–overdue return to Edinburgh this summer seem to have given this circuit stalwart fresh impetus, and his sharp, acidic barbs remain a rich delight.

Neil Delamere has struggled to make the impact in the UK that he has in his native Ireland, where he’s a TV regular. Tonight he mined his national stereotype with entertaining tales of drunken misdeeds – whether his own or other people’s – which certainly stuck a chord. He starts off with a few one-liners; but the extended yarn is more his style, enlivened with a deft turn of phrase. The callback in his ‘swimming with dolphins’ tale is particularly nicely done. He perhaps lacks that killer edge to make him stand out on an A-list bill like tonight, but Delamare remains pleasurably witty.

Jason Cook also found it tricky to get the audience to explode in laughter at first, perhaps a side effect of his placement so late in a long bill. But the room was never less than engaged with his personal stories, told as if he was betraying marital confidence as he regaled us with details of how he and his wife are trying for a baby, often a lot less romantic than it sounds. But by the end of the set such droll and honest material had won the room over, and he, too, will have picked up a few more fans tonight.

It’ll all help shift tickets for the next couple of weeks of shows at the festival, a veritable ‘best of’ collection for the most acclaimed shows from Edinburgh, combined with some big-name tours and the odd local offering. Visit brightoncomedyfestival.com for all the details.

Review date: 11 Oct 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Dome

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