Maisie Adam

Maisie Adam

Winner of So You Think You're Funny? new act competition at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe and nominated for best newcomer at the 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
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St Albans Comedy Garden review

With Dara O Briain, Andrew Maxwell, Maisie Adam and Rhys James

St Albans has become the latest city to get a big-name Comedy Garden festival, following similar events in Bristol, Brighton and Greenwich. More excitingly, this run of impressive open-air gigs is the first the organisers have staged in well over a year not to have any form of Covid restrictions.

Whether or not to address the pandemic remains a dilemma for comics. As opening act Maisie Adam acknowledged at yesterday’s matinee, audiences come out to get away from all that - yet lockdown was such a strange, heightened time it would seem perverse to ignore it.

Host Andrew Maxwell focussed on his direct experiences of weird Zoom gigs and weirder drive-ins, when he was reduced to being ‘a man screaming at parked cars’. That’s how thin the line between stand-up and street lunatic is. But whatever the conditions, it’s impossible to have a bad gig when Maxwell’s at the helm, thanks to his rousing energy and quick-witted banter than segues spontaneously into astute and passionate prepared routines.

He had much fun at the ‘fancy people’ of Hertfordshire here – the well-to-do Kagool Corps who know their way around the Countryside Code. An Austrian punter prompts a well-informed aside about Glock handguns, while Belfast’s tourism industry is ripe for predetermined mockery.

He also revealed that he’s just become a father for the fourth time, with his wife Suraya El-Wakil giving birth to a daughter two weeks ago. With his children covering a 20-year span, parenthood in all its iterations provides a fertile furrow, with Maxwell avoiding any clichés of this well-trodden ground.

Adam is of a different generation: when the 27-year-old does nostalgia-based material, it’s looking back at those long-ago days of 2009. But bad hair and fashion choices are timeless, even while her mocking of Facebook poses of the day is super-specific, resonating very strongly with those of a similar demographic.

The cheeky Yorkshirewoman specialises in longer-form stories. Rather than setting a cracking gag rate, she invites us into her world where she’s usually the butt of jokes, whether limelight-stealing in the school nativity or taking a very ill-advised lockdown haircut. Adam doesn’t flinch from a cheesy dad-joke-style punchline, though her ironic celebrations – de rigueur for any self-aware postmodernist – make them endearing.

Rhys James comes from nearby Harpenden and exploited his local links for all they were worth. This is the only place where the word ‘Batchwood’ is enough for a punchline, while there was widespread recognition of his many, many school trips to the Roman museum here in Verulamium Park.

‘Know your audience’ would be the watchword for this set, with many references to the shared middle-class background. White-collar privilege is no protection against being a member of Generation Rent, however, and his frontline tales of bad landlords and dodgy furnishings – as well as being cooped up in the flat with his girlfriend over lockdown - prove a great leveller, with laughs born from his genuine frustrations.

Headliner Dara O Briain hobbled onto the stage with a crutch, thanks to a recent operation to address a long-running knee problem. Of course, that provides plenty of fodder, as does the fact the walking cane he wanted to use didn’t quite make him the elegant dandy he’d hoped.

O Briain talks nineteen to the dozen at the best of times, and the excitement of being back on stage, albeit seated this time around, seems to speed him up even more.

Digressions almost trip over themselves to escape from his hyperactive brain. The punters ‘stealing’ comedy from their seats just outside the fenced-off arena provided a recurring gag, while an anecdote about a long-ago gig hosting the Bathroom and Plumbing awards at the Birmingham Metropole hotel – the glamour! – became an epic reminiscence as he uncovered one of the attendees in the audience now. Oh, and he had the best gag about the big screens that flank the stage at these gigs I’ve ever heard.

While live comedy’s been on hiatus, O Briain tried to stoke his well-documented interest in astronomy – but merrily torches his status as the subject’s cheerleader by mocking it as a hobby, and slating astronauts as ‘pricks’. Tongue in cheek, of course.

Every story seems on the verge of getting away from him, but O Briain always brings it back: the breakneck pace and free-form delivery all adding to the joy. A Dara O Briain gig is like a theme-park ride: you get the thrill of careering out of control, but the apparent recklessness underpinned by robust engineering and solid craftsmanship. It’s a blast.

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Published: 2 Aug 2021

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Maisie Adam: Vague

Maisie Adam: Vague


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