Ninia Benjamin, Jasper Cromwell Jones etc... | Review by Steve Bennett

Ninia Benjamin, Jasper Cromwell Jones etc...

Review by Steve Bennett

It may have been two and half years since Lee Hurst reopened his Backyard Club in Bethnal Green, but it still lays claim to being London’s newest purpose-built comedy venue. And nicely done it is, too, with an unfussy but effective room separate from its main bar. This weekend’s host, Kiri Pritchard-McLean explicitly fosters a positive attitude, directly telling the audience not to be idiots – and it seems to work. The one table that got slightly loud later on Friday night is firmly shamed into compliance before any serious disruption. As part of that supportive atmosphere Pritchard-McLean – who is also a writer with Manchester-based sketch troupe Gein’s Family Giftshop – insists that she’s not the sort of compere who will gratuitously insult people in her banter. That might be true, but her invasive prying into the relationships of the audience is potentially far more embarrassing – although it does opens up good comedy, and even the poor boyfriends who end up squirming at the sharp end of her interrogation seem to take it in good spirits. It’s all effective compering; not so much about her firing out zingers but finding - or inventing - laughs from the people in the room. Opening act Rory O’Keefe is a solid performer, but limits himself to the most well-trodden of topics. There is plenty of stuff on accents – how his own Irish brogue is considered sexy, how those from Northern Ireland are scary, and how Americans are cheerily optimistic. Stereotypes are well and truly reinforced with few twists – and so he continues as he plays up his national reputation for drinking, describing a night of consuming too much and waking up with an unattractive woman. He might have quit booze himself, but that’s not going to stop him mining this topic that strikes a chord with the audience – and one bloke in particular, who guffaws in recognition. But generally this is a by-the-numbers set. There are a few notably inventive punchlines that surprise, but it’s serviceable rather than distinctive. The O’ could stand for ordinary… Sy Thomas is a more beguiling mix of the weird and the vulnerable, making a motif of his loneliness – though that relationship status may be explained by some of the sometimes peculiar behaviour to whichhe admits. His set recounts the perfectly credible mishaps of a slight social misfit, rarely far from befuddled. The stories are affably retold, and even if the laugh rate could be ramped up, his eager, jaunty mood is infectious. Not all that memorable in a comedy scene surrounded by similar personalities, but he’s definitely fun. Comedy has seen posh buffoon characters ever since the days of PG Wodehouse, and probably before. There are far too many of them, if we’re honest, and few up to the level of Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice But Dim – but Joe Bor’s upper-class adventurer Jasper Cromwell Jones manages to ascend the peaks. And that’s mainly because he hasn’t forgotten to include jokes. Character gets you so far, but there is some great wordplay as he delivers withering putdowns against the plebian masses while being nicely un-selfaware about his Etonian privilege. He uses the device of reading from his memoirs, which dictates the pace and provides a narrative, though he sticks to it only loosely, coming out every couple of sentences to chat engagingly to the audience or to share a tangentially related aside. The sharp writing is what makes Cromwell Jones more than just another rehash of a ‘gap yah’ Hooray, while building on those well-established cliches. Finally, Ninia Benjamin offers almost the exact opposite brand of comedy, with a routine celebrating the dumb and the filthy, driven entirely by her larger-than-life personality. Any script of her performance would look painfully weak, but her loud, over-the-top, bawdy exuberance steamrollers through. She’s proudly anti-intellectual; gleefully telling us she can’t do jokes about ‘Shossissher’s cat’ like the smart comedians. She can’t even work clean, deliberately struggling with a straight gag. No, her fanny’s all she likes talking about – and she gets positively energised by the grubby talk; a joy that’s as virulent as Ebola. Much more than 20 minutes and the lack of substance might become an issue, but for a club set she’s a blast.

Review date: 18 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Backyard Comedy Club

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