Leicester Comedy Festival preview show 2017
Jason Byrne is a comedian who always has a bottomless capacity to be amused by his audience, leaping on every interjection to make out they are the ‘maddest crowd ever’. We all know it’s an exaggeration – especially with the conservative bunch who come to the Leicester Comedy Festival preview show – but it brings an energy. Besides, who doesn’t like a little flattery?
While he may say these things every night, it also leads to some running gags unique to this particular show, predominantly tonight regarding Leicester’s mayor – now pronounced as an elongated bleat – closing half the car park. Elsewhere, Byrne’s attempt to decipher the half-heard name of ‘Melton Mowbray’ brought the house down, the audience in on a local joke the eejit on stage (dressed in a Steve Martin-style white suit) is unaware of.
Following such japery, Josh Howie offered a much stronger flavour of stand-up, too pungent for some, who seemed uncertain how to take him. His ironic misogyny and assertions of being a terrible, unloving parent make him comedy’s version of a villainous wrestling ‘heel’, not meant to be liked. From this hard-hearted, self-centred stance, he generates a dense brew of cynical one-liners: Good jokes from a bad person. The emotional detachment might make the on-stage version of Howie hard to love, but you have to admire the craftsmanship.
Lost Voice Guy has an emotional detachment, too… but that’s because his material is delivered by computer. Robbed of speech by his cerebral palsy, his routine is pre-programmed into his iPad, each sentence timed by the press of a key. Initially this is a novelty, but gradually we get to know the man behind the artificial voice: a playful, self-deprecating comic who despairs of the dumb questions some people ask about his disability. And of course he gets his electronic voicebox to say silly things. We all would.
Sean Kelly is known to millions as the host of Storage Hunters, boasting on stage that his gabbled auctioneering is screened in 138 countries. He then leaves a gap for applause – has he learned nothing of the British lack of enthusiasm in his two years in this country? He brings the same commanding energy of the TV show to the stage, and is an adept performer, although the material could do with punching up. He even starts with a blonde joke, while material based on the German language being aggressive, the Downton Abbey image of Brits being shattered by a trip to Liverpool, and travelling tales are unremarkable.
‘Guess what I do for a job as well as being a comedian?’ Lloyd Griffiths asks as he bounds up to the mic. ‘Singer,’ replies the first punter he asks, destroying the hoped-for build-up to the revelation he’s a chorister, which he proves with an impressive blast from the classical hymnbook. Griffith’s set here is less stand-up and more a series of party tricks: he also recites facts about English cathedrals on demand and pulls off some spot-on impressions of domestic items. The main gag is that such niche references are far from ‘lad’ culture… though he actually has the alpha-male confidence to gee up the crowd for such displays.
Ever-personable Jamali Maddix continues to impress with his fresh stand-up voice: casual and engaging but informed and opinionated – especially on race, which he likes to tackle because it makes comedy’s largely white audiences ‘awkward’. He teases an older white guy in the front row that speaking to an urban black man like him must make him feel like it’s ‘hip-hop’. But Maddix is essentially a compelling storyteller, as his anecdote about visiting a £5-a-dance strip club reveals, flirting with bad taste but conveyed with such charm you could never take offence.
Carly Smallman delved into her back catalogue for her opening song about incest with her brother. ‘This goes down well in Norfolk,’ she joked, predictably. Juvenile sick jokes are the basis of the unsophisticated lyrics, but they certainly amuse her, causing her to crack up at her own material. For me, though, it’s cheap, though undeniably jaunty. Her second song was commissioned by the Leicester Comedy Festival as an anthem to go along with their ‘vote comedy’ marketing campaign this year. It’s a strange composition in that it’s rather earnest, even though the chorus message that we should ‘put a comedian in No 10’ to ease Britain’s woes is presumably not serious. Still, its catchy refrain should serve the festival well.
Finally, Dane Baptiste, star of the sharp and enjoyable BBC Three sitcom Sunny D, teasing the audience’s middle-class sensibilities in a deceivingly laid-back and soft-spoken manner. His unhurried, thoughtful stories – often stretching the ‘rule of three’ to a triptych of extended examples – quietly seduce the audience into his world before hitting them with a joke. It’s not a high gag rate, but a rich, rewarding one.
• The Leicester Comedy Festival runs from February 8 to 26. Website
Review date: 7 Jan 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett