Vodafone Comedy Carnival: The Best Of Irish

Note: This review is from 2018

Gig review by Steve Bennett in Galway

Twelve of the funniest feckers currently working in the Irish comedy circuit, that’s the simple sell of The Best Of Irish showcase at Galway’s Vodafone Comedy Carnival. Or at least the funniest comics prepared to share a Sunday-afternoon bill with 11 other names in a fast-moving conveyor belt that inevitably mixes the rough with the smooth.

And there’s a 13th act, compere Steve Cummins: pretty perfunctory in his banter, reeling off all the MCing clichés and hitting a few dead ends in his interactions until finally finding a thread worth pursuing with Joe the farmer. The bits of his own material we glimpsed didn’t show much inspiration, plenty on porn and wanking but with no fresh take. You know the sort of thing… how back in the day dirty pictures were found abandoned in hedges rather than online.

Many of the acts were a little discombobulated by the Spiegeltent set-up, its central stage forcing them to pace in circles as they performed in the round. Opening act Colum McDonnell had a good gag likening it to a cattle market, with him the prize heifer. His set proper was a delightfully observed slice of domestic minutiae, revolving entirely around biscuits and Weetabix: thoroughly engaging if oh-so short.

Andrew Ryan’s been around for a while on both sides of the Irish Sea, and has a relatable everyman charm… though some of the scenarios he portrays such as the young generation with the Instagrammable smashed-avocado-on-sourdough breakfasts is a little too generic to stick in the brain. Beneath the bonhomie, there’s a more intriguing undercurrent about whether any of us deserve to be happy, touching on issues of depression, but there was not enough time to draw that out.

Keith Fox took a typical stance, both in mixing all-too-familiar observations (trendy establishments serving drinks in jam-jars anyone?) with a more acerbic, downbeat attitude. His sarcastic dismissal of the concepts of ‘beach bodies’ in Ireland and smug marathon runners clearly come from a genuine desire to cut through the bullshit, and though parts of even a short set could be more focussed, his negativity is appealing.

Anna Clifford would benefit from more clarity in her set, too. Her approach to the morning-after ‘walk of shame’, defiantly refusing to believe there should be any shame involved shows a healthy self-assurance, and material about Irish repression made explicit in traditional dancing is well acted-out. But there are a couple of formulaic jokes, and sometimes her chatter around the subjects is jumbled, muddying the waters.

Tom O’Mahony has a strong persona, of the dyed-in-the-wool Tipperary county fella, slightly impressed by some of the cosmopolitan ways of modern Ireland, but keen to make jokes when he thinks anything’s getting too full of itself. Combining that no-nonsense frame of mind with some engaging storytelling chops makes him a comic who can easily hold, and entertain, a room (or even Spiegeltent).

Totally Wired are an old-fashioned, rather cheesy, duo… although there’s fun in the way they wholeheartedly embrace the corniness of their act, billing themselves as ‘Ireland’s oldest and least successful boy band’. Quick with the backchat, they impersonate Donald Trump with no real bite, and tease a satirical song about Muslims that turns out to be singing Koran-ran-ran to Da-Do-Ron-Ron. There’s no edge here. Their party piece is ‘bwark’ing along to an Ed Sheehan number, an idea they’ve lifted from Camila the Chicken from The Muppet Show. Yet their sense of fun is infectious, and there a couple of good lines that come as a surprise amid the naffness. 

Jim Elliott’s lived in Ireland for 12 years but is originally from Washington, DC – and his patter is so fast-paced and slick it almost feels like a parody of the old-school, guy-in-front-of-a-brick-wall style of US stand-up.  But his affectionate mockery on the peculiar way the Irish used the English language is funny, and endears him to a crowd. He’s very punchy and is hosting a roast battle elsewhere this festival. That makes perfect sense.

Breda Larkin is an over-packed bundle of all sorts of ideas and styles, rather too busy in the way she leaps about without really settling, starting from the moment she walks on stage with a crude face mask on. It feels like a lack of confidence that this fast-talking comic is trying too hard – but she needn’t be so nervy. For in the moments when she calms down into painting a picture of life in her backwater hometown, she displays some delightful turns of phrase, witty imagery and astute observations from living in a bungalow to the way her parents named her twin sister. It's good stuff, she should have more faith in it

As anyone who watched Ireland’s Got Talent earlier this year will know, Sean Hegarty’s a one-line merchant, some of which are very good indeed (in fact, one is the best in Ireland, according to a competition). And even those that aren’t are so brief as to not be a worry. With a few singalongs and song snippets played from his phone, he’s very much in the Tim Vine school of selling the silliness hard and cheesy. Sometimes the comparison’s a bit too close, but you can’t deny the craft in his writing.

Enya Martin, already something of a success online, never really seemed to gel. Cheap jokes about coming from a council estate where people get pregnant for benefits seemed to fit a rather generic of what should be funny, rather than coming from an authentic place. As she doesn’t seem to be reflecting the genuine humour in her background, it’s hard to buy into her comedy.

Edwin Sammon showed host Cummings how to tell sex stories, with great act-outs and a flair for showmanship. He unwittingly repeated the cattle auction gag we heard in the first half, but otherwise delivered a strong, tight and playful set, full of tongue-in-cheek mockery that hit the mark.

Before he took to the stage, Kevin McGahern, pictured, was hyped up with plenty of references to his telly credentials. Although when he took to the stage he seemed distracted and underprepared. That’s part of his shtick, though,  and once he settled in, he displayed some sharp political wit about the just-done presidential election – super-topical as well as funny. And his analogy for Britain’s self-inflicted Brexit wounds was on the nose, bringing a sort of gallows humour – and more than a touch of schadenfreude – to the upheaval that will have a knock-on effect on Ireland, too.

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Published: 29 Oct 2018

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