Lion's Den Comedy Club's 10th birthday
London open-mic club The Lion’s Den celebrated its 10th birthday last night, with what had been intended as something of a gala, bringing back a ‘best of’ collection of performers who had started there. However, with a threadbare audience, it quickly established itself as a night of indulgent in-jokes and mutual backslapping, alienating for the few real punters in the room.
Promoter Tim Rendle – deliriously happy with the longevity of his night and drunk from all the wine he was being bought – started the show with a 15-minute speech thanking, in detail, more than a dozen people, none of whom were there and who would have been known to outsiders, setting a tone for the nigh. As he sank more booze over the ensuing three hours, he became even more meandering, sentimental and easily distracted – and the comics in the front rows were happy to distract him with their interjections.
With his mantra the old ‘I’m here to make the other acts look good’, he introduced a dozen comedians ranging all the way from white guys with beards all the way through to white guys without beards. Tell a lie: Darius Davies was among them, and he’s half-Iranian, so there’s your ethnic diversity right there.
With a mix of new and old material, the night became something of a slog. I’ll spare you the details of every single act, but ew material often took the form of mildly amusing anecdotes: not so much prepared gags that need testing in front of an audience, but guys just talking in the hope something funny might fall out.
Those who worked best brought a larger-than-life persona to the stage – faux American rabble-rouser LJ Funk with his stupid-but-knowing shtick and Lenny Sherman with actual jokes to underpin his stereotype-subverting brash Cockney geezer. Others like Alistair Williams and James Loveridge had sparks of impish energy, which was much needed.
The presence of a reviewer, frequently referenced from the stage, scared some off – though saving this very long bill from groaning under the weight of three more acts might be considered a blessing. Nihilist Boyce Bailey, stung by a Chortle description of his material as ‘pedestrian’, set out to prove otherwise with a graphically room-splitting routine about extreme pornography. He got both laughs and silences, and claimed to enjoy both equally.
The audience were almost all performers, who joined in with in-jokes. There were a few real punters, no doubt left bemused my much of this, though their numbers dwindled over the night, as did the energy. By the end it was a test of patience to endure the litany of acts, not all of whom we need to mention. Like a real lion’s den, simply surviving the ordeals of the night seems to be the aim.
That wasn’t helped by closing act Julius Howe who – after a long slog of a show - used his set to read in its entirety the list of nocturnal animals off Wikipedia, with no comic input other than the deliberate tedium. He isn’t someone who can get a laugh from reading the phone book.
It was also a very similar gag bone-dry anti-comedian Brett Sharpe had previously used, reeling off a very long list of gender categories in lieu of the too-binary ‘ladies and gentlemen’ – and that was a stretch, too.
Yet for all the Lion Den’s faults, it was clear that the comedians love it, despite the gig being a frowned-upon pay-to-play. On a normal night even those going on stage have to pay the £5 entry fee. Perhaps because it feels more like a social club for acts than a gig, and probably even more so on a normal night, when so many of the audience will be there in the hope of getting on stage. It reminded my of the now-defunct Pear-Shaped gig, but without the cheery self-awareness of an evening that called itself ‘London’s second-worst comedy club’.
What a normal open mic night here in this unprepossessing basement nightclub would look like, I don’t know. But if the weekly club, promoted under the banner ‘car crash comedy’ has the same cliqueiness of tonight’s acts, performing for each other more than the scant real audience, it doesn’t auger well for the scene. For a genuine punter, however versed in comedy, would surely feel this wasn’t for them.
Review date: 11 Jan 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett