Show type: Misc live shows
Two of the finest comedy minds of their generation take their friendship to the limit with a groundbreaking tour/exercise in humility. If You Like a double shot of intelligence with your sense of humour, If You Like charm with your filth, if you're tired of all style and no substance, then these two comedians are just what you've been needing. Throughout April and May 2007, with dates already confirmed across the UK and Europe, come and laugh like a drain. Straight up, stand-up? Doubled Up.
When is a tour not a tour? Normally a comic might come up with an alluring concept for an Edinburgh Fringe show, then schlep around arts centres for a month or two performing it. That’s a tour.
Alistair Barrie and Silky have instead chosen to visit a bunch of medium-sized comedy clubs – just the sort of venues where they may well be found playing anyway – with what amounts to extended club sets. If it wasn’t for the fact they’d marketed Doubled Up as a nationwide tour, you might almost think it mere coincidence that they’ve wound up on the same bill quite so often this spring.
As a career ruse, it’s a calculated, halfway-house move, allowing them to start becoming known in their own right, rather than as just another two comics on a bill, but without the full pressures of having to sell out unfamiliar rooms under their own names.
The pairing might have been forged from friendship, but their contrasting styles prove complementary – Silky’s flighty whimsy offset by Barrie’s more disciplined approach.
Silky takes the mic first, and his softly-softly approach takes a little getting used to. He wants a bit of a friendly chat, but it’s charged with an engineered awkwardness as he makes uneasy advances to the women in the front row. You’re not immediately sure where you stand with his ambiguous persona, which means he’s slow to build comic momentum.
But slowly, his self-effacing charm wins through, as his knowing comments on his own strengths and weaknesses endear him to the audience. He’s never too far from lapsing into compere mode, and is happy to admit that he’s funnier reacting to spontaneous goings-on around him than he is with his prepared material.
True enough, this quick-thinking Liverpudlian does get some good lines from improvising, although the corollary to this is that sometimes he treads water, aimlessly waiting for something to happen to inspire him.
But even when the comic energy is just bubbling along gently, Silky will suddenly provide an unexpected laugh, most often from his inspired use of language. There’s a generous handful of wonderful little phrases in this set, often as short as a word or two, but so perfectly judged, they cannot help but trigger a heartfelt chuckle.
The set, as he’d probably be the first to admit, isn’t punchy enough to ride a wave of sharp gags, but it’s amiable timewasting tinged with some fanciful daftness.
Silky closes his set with a small collection of folky guitar songs. He’s a fine musician, but they are all stylistically too similar for a sustained run of them. They inevitably involve routines about filth or pulling in nightclubs set to unsuitably gentle melodies, sometimes to great effect, other times less so.
In part two, Alistair Barrie proves a lot more focussed on hitting the gag, but possibly at the expense of some individuality.
He has the sort of knowing, exasperated, sarcastic tone of voice that pervades so much topical comedy, especially on BBC topical news quizzes. He’s another middle-class liberal, fretting about the state of the planet or politics – especially if it’s American and right-wing – and pointing out all these calamities in that righteous ‘can’t these idiots see what’s wrong’ manner the Guardian is so good at.
His stance and opinions may not be wildly original, but his arguments are well-put, building up efficient routines with proper punchlines. Barrie’s obviously got some intelligence behind him, and crafts his jokes accordingly; even if sometimes they feel too much like gags from the head rather than the heart.
When he does get some passion behind the opinion, things take a noticeable lift, such as his ill-concealed hatred towards Margaret Thatcher. And for all the well-meaning politics in his act, some of his best work comes from talking about his own encroaching middle age or experiences of bad sex, which he acts out animatedly.
There are some things he maybe shouldn’t do. Even though he properly attributes them, there are rather too many lines from other comics: Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, Jeremy Hardy and Brendon Burns all make fleeting appearances. Plus topical material has a very short shelf life. It may have been only a couple of years ago, but Britain’s celebrations at winning the 2012 Olympics or Michael Howard’s Are You Thinking What We’re Thinking posters seem a long time gone – and would have already been parodied the week they were in the news, no matter how good Barrie’s take on them is today.
But he’s eloquent, slick and dynamic, and his hour positively races by in a blur of opinions, flippancy and indignity.
Between him and Silky, they can easily carry a night. Doubled Up may not be an arena-filler, but it more than satisfies their modest aims.
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
May 9, 2007