Brixton Comedy Club

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

There’s a community feel to the Brixton Comedy Club. Promoter and MC Ivor Dembina has run a room in this corner of South London for many years, there are a number of regulars in the audience, and it’s the sort of friendly local place that attracts the likes of Daniel Kitson, popping down tonight to chew the breeze alongside the newer acts on the bill.

But you wouldn’t call it professional; it’s a shambles, with decidedly hit-and-miss quality, but a charming shambles nonetheless. The running order is decided on the fly and from the stage; the doorman offers strange percussion on maracas or harmonica (and a stranger act when he’s given run of the stage), and Dembina’s lackadaisical low-energy compering won’t be landing him any bookings at the slick corporate chains any time soon.

Where there is disarray, Lewis Schaffer is sure to amplify it. After volunteering to be opening act, he starts by asking audience members how funny they think he’ll be, based on Dembina’s deliberately shoddy introduction. And that’s just the start of this late-middle-aged Jewish New Yorker’s needy insecurities.

With little evidence to go on, the audience average out at giving him three out of five – the same star-rating Chortle gave him at this year’s Fringe, to a chagrin he makes very public here. He wants to be a Marmite comic, and Marmite comics don’t get three stars. His aim is to engineer event comedy you’ll remember, for five-star better or one-star worse. But sometimes, as tonight, it just doesn’t click and he stays in the middle of the scale; the audience appreciating what he’s trying to do, even if it doesn’t happen,

Jonny and the Baptists are much easier to get a handle on, which is probably why a contingent from corporate entertainment bookers JLA are here to check them out, even if Dembina identifying them on the front row added to the awkwardness.

As a comedy party band, the trio have verve and infectious good humour. Original songs are jaunty in tempo and lyrics. There’s nothing to make you gasp at their comic invention, but their lyrics are witty and set to foot-stomping music. Plus cheery lead singer Jonny Donahoe uses the space well, climbing over tables as he sings a ‘don’t leave me’ love song to Scotland or berating the loss of good old-fashioned pubs.

BBC New Comedy Award winner Lucy Beaumont seemed quiet by comparison, and it took the audience a while to attune to her quirky low-key tales of Hull’s working – or not-working – class. A modern-day ingenue, she paints a vivid and sympathetic portrait of an all-too believable world, contrasted with the perils of That London. Told in an infinitely endearing accent, it’s enjoyable and original stuff,... save for a story about a man in a barber’s shop that’s a pretty old joke, and didn’t belong with the rest.

From her guileless sunny outlook, to the shadowy lowlands of Oli Bettersworth’s psyche. He suffers depression and misanthropy, using the stage as an outlet for his misery. His approach achieves mixed results; on one level, many can relate to his grumpiness at forced jollity or appreciate how telling someone suffering with mental anguish to just ‘cheer up’ might not be the clinical tonic needed.

Yet while some punchlines are funny some of his set-ups are longwinded, and he has a tendency to lay on the misery a little too heavily for a comedy set. Even though misery is a fine comic outlook, the attitude should speak for itself, it doesn’t need over-explaining.

Andy Zapp opened the second half, the club’s doorman and pet oddball. He seems to have a catchphrase: ‘It’s scary up here’ as his jokes fall on deaf ears.

A nervous performer, he resorts to shock tactics and old-fashioned jokes about, for example, the Chinese eating dogs to get a reaction. He’s an older comic who confesses to having had problems with drugs in the past, which wins him some sympathy, but it’s a gateway to some more corny jokes, rather that anything personal. His failings are all part of the in-joke of the night, though, and he’s treated as a slightly loopy older uncle. But if he’s to be a real comic, he needs to relax...

Michael Kossew labours his main routine, deciding that the familiar pattern of unrequited love – in which he becomes ‘just friends’ with the women he wants to romance – should be named after himself. There’s a nice strand of self-deprecation and the sort of situation many a man will identify with, but the routine needs to be much faster if it’s to zing, rather than stick at the sporadically amusing level.

But then speeding that up would leave more time for the second major strand of his set: That women over 30 are barren and washed-up. I’m sure it’s laced with teasing irony, but it just seems mean. And worse, it’s mean in a casual, half-hearted way, rather than being balls-out offensive, which would somehow at least be comedically more justifiable.

And to close, Daniel Kitson – responsible for many of the finest comedy shows of the last decade, but here just chatting with minimal material. There were a few germs of ideas in an otherwise indulgent bit of banter about the Twilight films but generally his section was not much of anything until he hit his stride with some compering work – blasting a woman for constantly mentioning shampoo as if mocking his baldness; or dashing off a couple of classic Kitson zingers against scaffolders or acting students.

For him, this is a long way down the artistic path from the finished product, but shows that no one is too talented to practice, practice, practice.

Review date: 7 Dec 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: The Dogstar

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