Frog and Bucket with headliner David Longley | Gig review by Steve Bennett in Manchester

Frog and Bucket with headliner David Longley

Gig review by Steve Bennett in Manchester

It might have been a tough call getting anyone to laugh last night. But despite the fine weather and the distractions of the day’s voting, Manchester’s Frog and Bucket mustered a viable audience on Brexit eve, albeit a quiet one.

Their reserve was reinforced with a line-up that favoured safe competence over excitement: a lack of diversity not just in having four white men from the same general demographic, but all peddling a similar type of broad observational comedy about their own lives and relationships. From this bill you wouldn’t know the political earthquake about to hit the UK, let alone anything of the creative vibrancy of the wider comedy world.

Typical was MC Pete Otway, a nice enough bloke but one whose chats with the audience often failed to engage beyond the group he was talking to – getting the job descriptions of the whole team of the internet start-up he selected seeming too much like the small-talk of a tea break at an industry conference. No wonder he ultimately had to concede the biggest laugh of the section to another punter’s quick comeback.

He found a little more joy in the second half, after locating a police officer in the front row, and his own material landed more squarely than the compering. But even so, it slips through the memory without making any impression: functional but inconsequential.

Opening act Andrew Bird, himself a regular host, did a better job of interacting with the audience – not least using an inopportune sneezing fit from the darkness to mix ad-libs with a polished routine about the same bodily function ruining sex.

The bulk of his prepared routine revolved around his Slovak wife, the travails of fatherhood – particularly the gruesome realities behind the near-euphemistic ‘changing the nappy’ – and taking issues wth the common media portrayal of dads a bumbling incompetents. Again, all affable stuff, if hardly surprising. For example, just mentioning that a ‘selfie’ sounds like a wank doesn’t seem to be trying too hard.

After the first interval, newcomer Chris Cantrill displayed more inventive, semi-surreal writing – but it was all in vain as he failed to earn the audience’s confidence, despite a few local references to rough Salford aimed at getting them on side from the get-go. But he attained no momentum as non-sequiturs misfired into silence, and he seemed lost as the crucial chemistry with the audience eluded him. It wasn’t quite a death, but it was a very awkward ten minutes.

In the other newcomer slot was Monty Burns, who seized the gig by the scruff of the neck with an energetic, animated delivery which commanded attention. In his material he sometimes further challenged audience complacency with a harsh edge – getting as many sharp intakes of breath as laughs. But again he struggled to make a connection: he made a rant with a feminist angle, but the rabble remained steadfastly unroused. Perhaps because it seemed like hitting easy targets such as airbrushing on women’s magazines. Much as we’d love to say he was ‘excellent’ in the voice of his Simpsons namesake, that would be overstating it: he was OK, with flashes of greater promise. But you can’t fault his powerful delivery.

David Longley occasionally dipped into domestic anecdote, although his story about his potentially racist son tweaks sensibilities, even if in a slightly contrived way. But he earned his headliner slot by giving things just that extra twist beyond the expected – as evidence by the linguistic showboating of the profanity-laced calling-card with which he opens. 

Longley cheekily plays with wider concepts such as perceptions of masculinity – not being an alpha-male, despite looking the part –and the possibility of acquiring a taste for homosexuality. It’s a robust set, with relatively mainstream gags that any audience will find easy to access, but, rewardingly, there’s a bit more depth to him than first appears.

Review date: 24 Jun 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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