The Comedy Store: Raw And Uncut

Cinema review by Steve Bennett

‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Mr Paul Tonkinson!’ It takes effort to override years of conditioning and not applaud – for this is not a comedy club, but a cinema, where whooping might draw frowns from the rest of the audience.

Not that there’s all that many of them. Just seven other people - plus another comedy reviewer who had the same idea as me – are scattered around this smallish room. They’ve all chosen not to go to a comedy club to see stand-up in the flesh, but experience the same show from a distance, courtesy of The Comedy Store: Raw And Uncut.

The film starts with a montage of the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus, which might be more impressive were the actual bright lights of Piccadilly Circus not right outside the door. This West End cinema is not a hundred yards from the most famous comedy venue in London. And at £13.60 a ticket, it’s just £1.40 cheaper than the full-price seeing it for real.

Why you would accept the imitation of odd, as is the whole idea of bottling the experience of a live comedy night for the big screen. The likes of John Moloney, Sean Meo and Paul Thorne are not obvious movie stars. Stand-up should be an immersive experience for the here and now. Although the plague of club audiences pecking away distracting smartphones means that might just be a distant nostalgic ideal.

The Comedy Store: Raw And Uncut is not a stream but a film. Tonkinson is taking the piss out of a man who was in the front row weeks ago. It’s one ghost insulting another. From the very comfortable cinema seats, there isn’t the frisson that you, or one of your mates, could be next, though many might see that as an advantage.

Setting aside my scepticism for the entire venture, the film is pretty good. It’s very well made, in such high definition you can see the smallest chips in the paint of the iconic laughing-mouth logo. Shot ‘as live’, the experience is better than similar shows made for the likes of Comedy Central, the big screen meaning it dominates your concentration in a way moving-wallpaper TV never can. It’s no substitute for being there, but it might be the next best thing... at least until they do it in 3D.

The Store is known for its conservative booking policy, and that hasn’t changed for the cinema. This first film – one of four being released fortnightly for one-off Friday-night screenings – features a typical line-up of Hal Cruttenden, Mike Gunn, Addy Van Der Borgh and Louis Ramey, none of them names that have the cinematic pulling power of Tom Hanks.

Cruttenden is the star, a perfect embodiment of the fey Englishman intimidated by sport, life, his wife, and the fear of not seeming polite. Gunn peddles a more old-fashioned, vaguely sexist set about how women like candles and cushions. The ideas seem tired, though there’s undoubtedly still and audience for them. Van Der Borgh is a master of performance set-pieces, overly-rehearsed perhaps, but with engaging charm; while the hugely experienced Atlanta-born Ramey bangs out the slick punchlines on his blokey set.

Reservations aside, the film is more fun than expected; and certainly the two people behind me were in gales of laughter that couldn’t be bettered if they were in the Comedy Store on the night.

Reservations back in place, I’m not sure who would choose this over a ‘real’ movie though – and certainly not over a night in an actual comedy club, which every town and city surely boasts by now, with the larger ones presenting line-ups on a par with those on screen.

But if you’re a stand-up fan in a more isolated outpost, the allure is obvious. Whether this will be enough for those folk at Sony Digital Cinema who made these films remains to be seen.

Published: 25 Feb 2013

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.