Ealing Comedy Festival 2011: Day 4

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

You know you’ve got a strong bill when Sean Lock’s on – and not even headlining… and so it is with the penultimate night of the Ealing Comedy Festival, with a couple of real treats in the line-up.

We start, though, rather more modestly. Compering, Dave Johns does a reasonable job of getting the audience’s attention – as well you might hope after 21 years in the business – exploiting the north-south divide with plenty of jokes comparing this well-to-do West London suburb and his native Newcastle. However, other bits of his once-topical material are showing their age, rather like watching re-runs on the digital channel that bears his name. Jokes about Michael Jackson and Gary Glitter, the trapped Chilean miners and – bafflingly – one particular interview Daniel Craig did on taking up the role of James Bond in around 2005. He’s jaunty enough to put the tent in a good mood, though, and his banter is quick-witted.

Mark Maier’s gentle observational shtick is a little lost in the big space. Much of his routine is on the level of a quietly amusing conversation about his family life, and the big stage demands more fireworks, or at least stronger punchlines, than this. His entertaining closing section, about having to undergo a speed awareness course, ups the ante as accelerates his writing to match the subject matter – which finally raises the level above the inconsequential.

Steve Best, on the other hand, doesn’t hold back. Whether the question was asked or not, he is the 21st Century’s answer to Russ Abbott – a balding middle-aged man who leaves his dignity in the dressing room to embark on a daft, prop-heavy whirlwind of groanworthy ‘dad gags’. None are particularly good, and his verbal ‘no I didn’t/yes I did’ flip-flopping can grate before too long, but the devil-may-care energy he invests in this nonsense is infectious, and he easily gets the sold-out marquee chuckling at his oddball exploits. You probably wouldn’t want to live with this gag-a-second livewire, but 15 minutes or so a blast.

After the first interval, the superlative Sean Lock. He looks deceptively normal in his sharp grey suit – but his genius is in taking universal observational comedy and giving it an inspired twist of surreal logic to take the audience into strange new realms. That anchor in the real world, however tenuous, means that even when he gets extremely fanciful – such as in his fantastic routine imagining Madonna as a terrifying, robot sexual predator – the bizarreness seems strangely credible. It’s impossible to find fault in a set that’s so imaginative, witty and smartly written – not to mention delivered with a sort of distracted insouciance that all this weirdness is perfectly reasonable conjecture.

Only one man could continue in this vein, and that’s eccentric headliner Milton Jones, here with an almost entirely brand new collection of obtuse one-liners. His set threatened to be derailed by the one idiot among 999 decent punters, barking out his own semi-coherent punchlines that he must, in his own head, have thought smarter than Jones’s beautifully-crafted work. But the Mock The Week regular is more than skilled enough to deal with such an irritant without fully breaking his detached persona – ‘I’ll deal with this one,’ he says calmly when the rest of the crowd turn on the heckler – and we have more respect for him for doing as he promised. Then back to those demented, quick gags that we love.

Review date: 22 Jul 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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