Camden Crawl 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Walking around Camden, you wouldn’t know there was a festival on. And not just because at any time of year, the streets of this vibrant corner of North London are thronged with the sort of hipsters and oddballs who make Glastonbury’s Healing Field look like a corporate AGM.

The 20+ venues Camden Crawl uses host music and comedy every night in any case, but the advantage of this weekend is the wristband, which means piunters can walk away from anything that doesn’t take their fancy.

Like, for example, Ross Lee’s musical Horace Fignernips – the only hour-long comedy show in the festival’s programme, presented not once but three times on Sunday, in the prestigious Jazz Café. The sparse audience trickled, and eventually gushed, out as this amateurish, self-indulgent spectacle inflicted its witless, grating efforts on their patience.

Lee – best known as BBC Three’s The Prankster – imagined this a satire on modern comedy, The protagonist, which Lee plays himself, is an unfunny but ambitious would-be comedian and virgin with a five-year business plan but no jokes. His name? Barry Chancer. Yep, it’s that obvious.

The contrivance is that after dying at an open mic night, Chancer finds a hat, via which the spirit of a dead comedian can enter his body and find a new success and hedonistic lifestyle. Imagine The Mask, but with no jokes, verve or Jim Carrey… and you’ve got Son Of The Mask. This is infinitely more unfunny, than even that lame-duck sequel.

Where The Mask’s Stanley Ipkiss companion was his dog, Chancer’s is his mattress, forcing one poor actor to spend the hour hemmed into bedding. At least he could act, unlike Lee’s desperate mugging, which had neither the jokes nor the style to come off as gloriously exaggerated. Unsubtle scenarios were played out with a grin-and-bear it enthusiasm and a painfully unfunny script – whether Chancer was his awkward self or supposedly invigorated by a comic great from beyond the grave.

It’s a shame this unrepresentative mess was given such a central position at the Crawl, while much better comics were sweating away in tiny rooms.

In the awkwardly-shaped space above the Camden Head, for example, Manchester agency Gag Reflex programmed an afternoon of robust club comedy, compered as playfully as ever by the mischievous Ray Peacock. Spotting the festival’s official photographer in the room, he decided to stage a fight, Deirdre’s Photo Casebook-style, creating another moment on spontaneous silliness, never to be repeated.

Of the acts Chortle saw there, the ever-reliable Keith Farnan entertained with charm and good humour, while making serious points about Size Zero models and not-so serious ones about the economic crisis blighting his native Ireland. Mop-haired Ben Van Der Velde wasn’t so consistent, but sometimes offers perfectly sharp turns of phrase that set him apart.

An even stronger bill was offered in the similarly crowded venue above the Black Heart, courtesy of the accurately named Really Lovely Comedy.

There, Jim Campbell was a highlight of the day, thanks to exquisitely written, punchline-driven material that mined stereotypes of Essex life and his own clumsiness without cliché. Delivered with an alluringly relaxed stance, this was quirky yet accessible stuff from a future star.

Patrick Monahan was his usual effusive self. Yes, he over-milked the applause, and yes he has more cheeky charm than he has material, which here largely concerned itself with the less sporting reasons for enjoying the women’s beach volleyball. But that charm goes a very long way, and disliking him isn’t really an option.

Sketch duo McNeill & Pamphilon also won over the crowd, thanks to a strong line of self-deprecation, acknowledging limitations of both the form and their execution of it. Such an engaging delivery gives their weaker sketches a get-out while enhancing the more imaginative ones, such as the witty scene set in a pre-decimal corner shop.

Between acts, compere Thom Tuck had difficulty holding the audience with his offbeat mockery of straight-to-DVD Disney films, as his appearance inevitably hearalded a coming-and-going of festival-goers keen to seek out what else was on offer, or simply sample the food and stalls of a typical Camden Sunday afternoon. But such is always the way of festivals… at least he didn’t have several hundred people in a tent to contend with.

In the evenings, the venues are turned back over to the up-and-coming bands – chosen by music industry insiders – which has made the event so important for rock trend-followers. Comedy, and the rest of the daytime programme, which was extended a couple of years back, is more of a welcome added extra than directly justifying much of the £67.50 weekend ticket.

Review date: 7 May 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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