Best Of Irish | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Backyard Comedy Club, East London

Best Of Irish

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Backyard Comedy Club, East London

‘My friends don’t understand it.’ Niamh Marron jokes. ‘I came to England from Ireland – and I didn’t even want an abortion.’

She and five other Irish comics who got to London before the Brexit door slams showed their wares at the Backyard Comedy  Club last night, attracting a heathy – and perfectly playful – crowd of fellow expats and beyond, all seeking a taste of the old country. And stereotypes were rife… not just the frequent gags about drinking, but also the archetype of the Irish being fine storytellers with a rich streak of self-deprecation.

Host and co-promoter Duane Doogan proved a warm and affable anchor for the night, joshing with a couple of the more vocal elements of the audience and mock-resignedly being the butt of his own jokes, especially about carrying a few extra pounds. Topical material was a bit more hit-and-miss, but what’s the point of having your own gig if you can’t try out new gags? And Doogan’s affable demeanour carried any misfires. A bit about the groping allegations against Al Porter, who he didn’t name, made for an tense start for a typical joke about Irish mammies; while another about the Oxford Street panic was similarly too convoluted.

Opening act Neil O’Rourke slathered on the self-deprecation even more liberally, instantly defining himself in contrast to ‘laddy’ lads, and describing how he was the most well-mannered victim a mugger could hope to meet. The humour is droll and relatively gentle, but builds to a set that’s slick and businesslike. Apt, really, for in his youth he gave himself the ironic nickname The Business, which cost him the few mates he had since they took him seriously. But what he lacks in swagger – and possibly friends – he more than makes up in delightful punchlines and entertaining yarns.

Marron’s very much the opposite end of the modesty scale, bold and brash and revelling in below-the-belt humour: Much of her set was about scratching an itchy fanny, the rest about messy ends to big nights out… so a little one-dimensional and crass, although her undignified mimes scored laughs with the room. She ends by getting us all to make offensive gestures for the sake of a Boomerang message– again a crude but effective bit of rambunctiousness. It even required Doogan to calm the room’s energy for the next act – and it’s the sign of a skilled compere to know that was required. 

Normal service was resumed with Peter Flanagan. Normal service being a keen sense of resigned absurdity about his lowly status in life, fundamentally unemployable thanks to a philosophy degree and the limited opportunities of life in small-time Ireland. He has special fun mocking his bigoted dad, even if a prank to expose his prejudices backfired, with amusing consequences. Flanagan’s was another robust, amiable set getting a high laugh count with his low-status life.

After the interval, James OD continued with the quiet, downbeat approach, though he seemed a little more nervous and apologetic than others on the bill. But after some low-key material about life on the building site, the rest of the set comes with a gimmick in the form of a phone app that provides an soundscape to his routine, ranging from  atmospheric mood music to upbeat EDM, and occasionally a sound-effect gag. It’s a strange set, often more weird than funny, but if he can get the right material this could be an interesting and unique way of presenting stand-up. Though he’s not there yet.

Chris Kent, pictured, is so mild-mannered it seems he would never have the oomph to generate big laughs. But his quietness is a strength, as it lures the audience into his quiet beta-male world, with stories that are engrossing even when little happens. It’s a fine anecdotal talent to draw us in in this way, and his writing is as wryly witty as it is evocative. Some of his stories – indeed his entire set – can fizzle out rather than build to  a satisfying climax – but this is all about the journey rather than the destination, and it’s certainly a scenic route.

Review date: 29 Nov 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Backyard Comedy Club

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