Brighton Comedy Festival: Best Of The Fest

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Can’t decide what to see at the Brighton Comedy Festival? Well these teaser shows are designed to help you choose… or, more likely, act as a substitute for those audience won’t risk an hour on an unknown.

>You’d certainly have to be very keen on opening act Al Pitcher to see his show, as it started straight after his set here in the venue next door. Is he so good you would abandon your current ticket for more of his mellow musings? Probably not.

>This chatty Kiwi is easy to like, but doesn’t have a ‘must-see’ buzz about him. He’s a nice fellow, and so relaxed it feels as if he could have just wandered up out of the audience and started a conversation. Such is his low-key presentation, that a few minutes after mentioning he now lives in Stockholm, a voice pipes up: ‘How did you end up there?’ Not so much a heckle as a man confusing this for a chat at the bar. Easy mistake to make.

>Indeed, parts of the set don’t seem to be vigorously thought through, and are just meandering observations, occasionally interrupted with the rhetorical self-aware comment: ‘That didn’t go that well, did it?’

>It’s quite charming, and certainly provides a relaxed ambience for his more storytelling-like segments, such as his tale of sharing a sleeper train carriage with an exhibitionist passenger. And, behind the laid-back affability, there are some strong observational routines, including his impression of emerging from the 24-hour flight back home, or on the Australian system of measurement. Yet the comedy is knowingly undersold, which reduces its impact from belly-laughs to mildly enjoyable.

>Seann Walsh was on this very stage at the star-studded opening gala last week, holding his own alongside the likes of Michael McIntyre – not bad for someone so comparatively new.

Again, he proved that he had the ‘I do that!’ factor; with rich laughs of recognition from his appealing material. Stupidly banging your head, bitchy ‘people watching’, drunkenly trying to talk your way into a nightclub… they’re all things most people have done, beautifully expressed by this ragged everyman. Aptly enough, Brighton boy Walsh felt at home in this big venue, making full use of the vast stage, the only act not to be rooted to the microphone.

>Compere Stephen Grant is a local, too, and he certainly used that fact to bond with the audience at the start of the second half, telling them of his support for Brighton & Hove Albion and taking civic pride in the city’s reputation for gay-friendliness, drug-taking and messing with census-takers. Earlier he had used the MC skills he’s forged over the years at Komedia, a couple of streets away, for some slick banter with the front rows… there can’t be many jobs or character types he hasn’t encountered before, and he has instant recall of all the gags.

>Last time Chortle saw Paul Chowdhry it was in front of a small, very difficult audience for his late-night solo show in Edinburgh, and he struggled. Tonight, in front of maybe 1,200 people, his unapologetic and self-proclaimed ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’ material found a better reception.

>Well, except for one woman who boldly stood up and confidently and declared: ‘I have a question…’ in a tone of self-righteousness you’ve never heard the likes of. And promptly wished she hadn’t, as Chowdhry, who seems to attract difficult audiences, roundly destroyed her. Given a second chance to ask, she got laughed out of town by the rest of the audience after getting as far as ‘Name five comedians…’

>It’s more-than likely she took offence at something Chowdhry said. His comedy is of a strong flavour, and he doesn’t attempt to make explicit any irony behind it. Quality-wise it’s a mixed bag, with a few cheesy or predictable lines alongside the more teasingly provocative material – and his take on the inventive swearing employed by people who have English as a second language is reliably funny. But he certainly comes to life with a bigger crowd, where he can prod heavily at the liberal triggers.

>Stewart Francis is always a joy, with his dry-but-silly one-liners, the sort you’ll want to quote for weeks to come but couldn’t hope to remember. He deserved a better response that he got tonight – because he deserves nothing less that rapturous applause – but the deft wordplay drew plenty of chuckles.

>There were a few newer gags among Francis’s robustly tried-and-tested repertoire and he, too, can occasionally employ the odd offensive idea, but since it’s set in the context of his relentlessly ridiculous set, the intention is clearly not hateful. No one could surely take umbrage? Step forward Ms Self-Righteous, who attempted to interrupt again, but was groaned down by the other 1,199 people in the room. Ah, these sparks of unpredictability that make stand-up so alive as an artform…

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  • The Brighton Comedy Festival continues until October 23. Vist the official website for full listings

Review date: 16 Oct 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Dome

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