Craig Campbell 2011 tour

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Corry Shaw

Fresh from supporting Frankie Boyle last year, Craig Campbell has now embarked on his own debut stand-up UK tour. Although perhaps the Canadian would have been wise to follow Boyle’s example of booking a support act, as this very much was a show of two halves.

Campbell's laid-back approach to his performance caused a few problems this evening as his opening 20 minutes very swiftly just became a casual chat with some overly enthusiastic members of an otherwise reserved audience. As an experienced MC he should have sensed the crowd’s discomfort and boredom as he persisted in trying to find some nugget of humour in the comedy cul-de-sac that a Philadelphian fan was leading him down.

It took Campbell a full 15 minutes on stage before he reached for some material, which brought a welcome and overdue laugh from the audience. Alas this was all too short a break from the inane conversation with the American and we were soon returned to the tedium of chit chat about the weather Stateside in the winter.

The entire first half was marred by Campbell's insistence on playing MC rather than performing his show, despite some brilliant set pieces about his native Canada and his love of outdoors pursuits. The audience were flagging, which was not helped by his constant referral to the upcoming interval and the need to top up our glasses.

We were treated to a glimpse of the true nature of Campbell's comedy just before the break, with his take on the difference in police forces and border controls between North America and the UK. There are some genuinely interesting observations but the bite of the punchlines doesn't quite match the apparent passion Campbell has for this topic.

There is a clear sense that he has some real issues with governments and law enforcement but it feels like he is watering down his rage to maintain the likeable, laid-back persona he has mastered.

There is a sense of foreboding as Campbell announces that the length of the interval will be determined by how fast the audience return to their seats, as the night is already dragging and the prospect of a lengthy break causes some consternation as I overhear people complaining about possibly missing their trains home.

When we do return we are repaid with a completely different show. Campbell pulls out all the stops to ensure an amazing second half. He launches straight into joyous storytelling about some of the characters he's met on his travels. When the chatty fan from the first half starts to get involved Campbell swiftly responds with an exceptionally cutting put-down, which is rewarded by a huge roar of approval from the rest of the audience and welcome silence from the hecklers.

And we are straight back into some perfectly observed and hilarious storytelling. There is still a little interaction with the front row but this time Campbell has the balance spot on and uses any information gleaned to great effect, weaving a beautifully silly story from his time in the Caribbean after chatting to a Jamaican woman in the crowd. The story is so wonderfully performed and fits in so snugly with the rest of the material that it blends seamlessly with the rest of his narrative.

Even with tales that some may find it hard to relate to –  whether it be getting high on mushrooms or scaling the highest peak in North America – Campbell has the skill to illustrate the situation with such clever descriptions and physicality that you can't help but empathise and laugh along with the ridiculous incidents. He even has the audacity to say ‘I don't know if you've ever found yourself in this situation’ before he describes being stuck camping in the wilds for three days before an Inuit appears on a boat offering them halibut. Not something many of the Brighton crowd could claim to have done, but we all felt like we were right there with him.

By the end, any remaining negativity about the first section had been forgiven as Campbell more than proved himself as one of the most skilled storytellers and jokesmiths on the circuit.

Review date: 17 Apr 2011
Reviewed by: Corry Shaw
Reviewed at: Brighton Komedia

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