Greenwich Comedy Festival: Ardal O'Hanlon etc

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

This was meant to be Sean Lock’s night. Instead the midway point of the Greenwich Comedy Festival was headlined by ‘Ireland’s number Sean Lock impersonator’, Ardal O’Hanlon. He, and the supporting bill, provided a night of solid, dependable laughs, even though they could never provide an event to stand out amid the other impressive line-ups organisers have pulled off this week.

Compere Arthur Smith’s shtick is familiar by now – but his ‘elder statesman’ status means the gags are now classic, not merely old. You might say the chances of him writing new jokes are as likely as a naked woman walking across his stage… yet both featured in his entertaining and occasionally poetic badinage.

For an appetiser, Kevin Eldon is something of a strong taste. His eccentric sensibilities, fast, fragmented style and inventive, knowing writing take a little getting used to, especially with a large, relatively mainstream crowd such as this. Yet his sheer commitment to his ideas – as diverse as the French Proclaimers or the portrayal of Hitler with the voice of Beatles producer George Martin – pull the audience along with him. Conventions of stand-up are thrown on to his bonfire, as he searches for a catchphrase or gets physically demonstrative of his off-kilter thoughts. The set is all over the place – but in a good way.

Rap improvisers Abandoman are a much easier sell, and here performed with bass, keys, drums and a two-man brass section backing up the core duo of Rob Broderick and James Hancox. They have their established formats, such as the ‘what’s in your pocket?’ rap based around objects the audience hold aloft, and Broderick thinks fast enough to come up with spur-of-the-moment couplets for them all. And the audience member whose childhood dream was to be a bodypopper, and now wanted to know how Michael McIntyre came up with his material, proved a godsend when it came to ad libbing a short hip-hop musical. The autotuned spirit of Kanye West and the anti-establishment ethos of Rage Against The Machine are evoked in other songs, giving some variation to their routine and providing a funky bassline to invigorate the crowd.

O’Hanlon’s set was based around the familiar feelings of being rather overwhelmed and quietly frustrated by life, often because of the unreliability of those around him, even though he’s well aware of his own failings, especially when it comes to traditional ideas of masculinity. He has a quirky turn of phrase and evocative imagry to describe all this, so even when the comedy seems a little too straightforward – such as his disappointment in receiving a charity birthday gift of a Peruvian pear tree – he charms through it all.

Although these are largely domestic gripes, the former Father Ted star shows a glint of real edge on the topic of paedophile priests, his cold steel puncturing the otherwise fluffy exterior. Other topical points about image-obsessed politicians or Ireland’s financial woes might not be informed by the same genuine dismay, but he offered quirky takes on familiar ideas. Perhaps there’s more of a political comic trying to burst through his Everyman demeanour.

Review date: 9 Sep 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Old Royal Naval College

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