Comedy De Luxe: Opening night

Gig review by Steve Bennett

First, an explanation. This new weekly night in an intimate Spitalfields basement in London is run by Chortle, which might immediately raise your suspicions about the impartiality of this review. However, I’m not here to sell the shows, but pass honest comment on up-and-coming comedians, who are keen to get their profile on the site.

That, after all, is one of the raisons d’etre of Comedy De Luxe; the other is to give an established headliner an extended set in which to spread their wings (Ava Vidal this week, Tony Law next) – and that second half won’t be reviewed, even if the familiar names we have might help us shift more tickets.

So, the first act on the first night was Omar Hamdi, pictured, a young man of Egyptian stock, but brought up in Wales. Yet actually he makes that unusual mix seem almost cliched through rather formulaic thoughts that his parents were missold the attractions of the Principality compared to their homeland. In fact, formula, mixed with the ethnic card, tends to be what Hamdi does - for example in imagining what sort of TV programmes Britain might have if under the control of Al Qaeda.

There are some decent jokes in this, and Hamdi is a warm, personable, confident performer happy to include the audience – which makes him a safe bet as an opening act. But there’s the feeling that he’s just a bit too safe, as we’ve heard so many of these premises before that he’s not going to stick in the memory unless he pushes into newer territories. His Arab Spring material is a step in the right direction.

Fraser Geesin won’t have the problem, thanks to his willingness to sacrifice his dignity in the cause of stiring up the atmosphere. He takes to the stage in a maelstrom of explosive energy, and although that subsides, he has a style that’s part in-your-face, and part lower-key, meaning he can invigorate an audience, without being so anarchic that they fear for their safety.

The strong performance is backed with some solid writing, taking a refreshingly oblique approach to mainstream topics such as muggings or the annoyance of tinny music on the tube – or using fierce logic to skewer the likes of Bob Dylan lyrics. He’s an intriguing act, developing on the still under-populated alternative edges of the circuit.

Anthony Ayton is another act who’s warm and amicable, making an easy connection with the audience, but needing material that’s just a little less pedestrian. The set comprises the all-too-familiar mix of pull-back-and-reveals, and light-hearted, self-deprecating comments about being tall, black, or slightly socially inept. He’s good company and charming... but nothing substantially more.

The confident Ian Hawkins, tweedy in look, has spent a lot of time writing for other comedians, but hasn’t yet found a voice of his own – and that’s evident from his opening line, which is the old favourite: ‘It’s nice to be here, but then I’m from XXX so it’s nice to be anywhere.’ His XXX is Essex, which he portrays as full of fake-tanned girls so orange they look like Oompah Loompahs. The envelope stays similarly unpushed with jokes about Americans being fat.

Yet he hints at more interesting areas, such as family therapy, which offer more than stereotypes by numbers, but sadly fail to generate the number of jokes they should. He’s a comic that definitely needs more work.

Finally, 21-year-old Patrick Morris reflects on the foibles of his generation; though like so many of the acts here, plays it safe, being sarcastic about people who use terms like ‘legend’ for someone who buys a round, or commenting on how his snap-happy peers love to post pictures on Facebook. In the first case, he doesn’t get much beyond the obvious derision at such hyperbolic language... though in the second he expands the observation into a wider comment on society.

That will prove the key to any future success – to move beyond the first thought into things the rest of us won’t have thought; for the simple stance of not fitting in with the laddish shenanigans of other young people is a common one in comedy, so needs an extra twist to be distinctive in his own right.

Published: 25 Jan 2013

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