The most memorable comedy gigs of 2018 | Chortle editor Steve Bennett's personal top ten

The most memorable comedy gigs of 2018

Chortle editor Steve Bennett's personal top ten

10. Flight Of The Conchords, Portsmouth, March

Seen just a few days before Bret McKenzie broke his wrist, forcing the rest of the tour to be postponed until later in the year, the duo were on delightful  form. 

Advancing years suits them well, new ditties about contented middle-class life entirely fitting their low-key demeanour that was never going to make them rock stars, whatever their younger aspirations, as chronicled in their cult HBO show.

 It was always a pleasure to hear McKenzie and Jermaine Clements deliver greatest hits such as Mutha’uckas and Bowie’s In Space, but new songs fitted seamlessly alongside the classics, for a thoroughly entertaining evening.  Original review.

9. Helen Bidou: Enter The Spinnaker Lounge, Melbourne, April

If the modest charm of the Concords is at one end of the spectrum, the bull-in-a-china-shop bluster of  Anne Edmond’s outrageous, drunken, self-absorbed alter-ego with the intense Joker grin is at the other. 

A bawdy riot, this was a show designed to self-destruct into rambunctious chaos through the character’s grasping ambition and lack of self-awareness. And so it did in spectacular style. 

Deadpan Sam Campbell, who won the main Barry award at Melbourne with another great show, also provided the perfect counterpoint here, in the awkward, unconfident guise of Bidou ’s son Connor. Original review.

8. Early Doors, Salford, September

Two TV comedies have hit the stage this year. Benidorm is something of a natural fit, its big comedy and rambunctious feel easily transferrable to a stage musical. But Craig Cash and Phil Mealey’s low-key comedy was a less obvious option. 

However with loveable characters – whether or not you remember them from their last BBC outing 14 years ago – a warmly witty script, and playful performances made for a wonderful night… and a big question over why this wasn’t a monster hit on TV. Original review.

7.  Variety’s 10 Comics To Watch Showcase,  Montreal, July

Memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. The only comic anyone in the audience will remember from this supposed harbinger of the future was the one whose comedy career crashed and burned in front of our eyes.

 Darren Knight is a social media star who learned the hard way that an unpartisan live crowd is a different prospect from an online fan base. He died big time, with a long-winded, scatological tales and dire Southern Momma character inducing nothing but embarrassed cringes among the audience.

But rather than cut his losses and get off stage, Knight decided to launch a broadside against all the comics who had gone before him, many of whom had spoken about their gender, race or sexual orientation as part of their act. ‘Comedy's not about race or sexism,’ he sniped. ‘People come here to laugh.’ A service he – the sole straight white dude on the bill – had singularly failed to provide them.

Backstage footage later emerged of host Chris Redd, from Saturday Night Live, berating him: 'You go out there and bomb the whole time and decide what comedy is?’ After that gig, Knight was condemned to stay on its fringes, his big break blown… Original report.

6. James Acaster: Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999, London, November.

He collects Edinburgh Comedy Award nominations like the rest of us collect Nectar points, yet still James Acaster evolves, with his new show –  which is set to tour in autumn 2019 – his most personal yet.

While his career soars, including four Netflix specials released all at once, his private life has been less triumphant, as he detailed in this stand-up masterclass – including a brilliant self-effacing story of how an ex- left him for an older, more successful comedian.  

Acaster also served up lashings of peerless, quirky observational comedy and even a snippet of the political as he offered a great analogy for Brexit. Almost every comic will have such a bit, but as is so often the case, Acaster is a league above. Pure class. Original review.

5. John-Luke Roberts, Edinburgh, August 

For nothing more than the title – All I Wanna Do Is [FX: GUNSHOTS] With a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy! – John-Luke Roberts would have one of the most memorable shows of 2018. But this manically absurd show delivered on the promise, too. 

His suitably preposterous premise were that his uniquely innovative characters were all missing Spice Girls – and while everything was rooted in the avant-garde, he pulled in aspects of real life in the hilarious alter-egos.

Meanwhile there was a a logic and narrative to each sketch that made his peculiar little worlds credible in their ridculousness. It was a travesty this bold and funny performer never made the Edinburgh Comedy Award shortlist. Original review.

4. Alex Edelman: Just For Us, Melbourne, April

One show that did make that list was Alex Edelman’s  textbook example of taut, purposeful comedy writing that swept you along with the power of gripping storytelling, while not skimping on the gags.

This intense Bostonian’s  funny and fascinating show largely concerned his encounter with a neo-Nazi group in New York, Louis Theroux-style, which meant high-stakes jeopardy for a Jewish man who was raised devoutly.

Just For Us marked a significant move towards social politics and away from millennial self-absorption for Edelman, however funny he made the latter. Add to that his precision-driven comedy techniques and engrossing source material, and you have a hit.  Original review.

3. Lano & Woodley: Fly, Melbourne, April

They won the Perrier in 1994 – when this year’s winner of the Edinburgh award, Rose Matafeo, was just two years old –    and promptly vamoosed back to Australia where they had such successful careers both together and apart that they can rightly be considered national treasures.

That certainly meant there was a lot of love for Frank Woodley and Colin Lane in this first proper reunion in 12 years – a familiarity that the pair played with, without being self-indulgent. 

Their dynamic is as  old-fashioned as it comes: Lane  tries to go about his serious business delivering a piece of theatre about The Wright Brothers, but Woodley the idiotic, child-like clown ruins it all. 

The nonsense was faultlessly executed to make it look effortlessly funny, making sure the laughs flew even if the intended lecture didn’t. Original review.

2. Ciaran Dowd: Don Rodolfo, Edinburgh, August

Giving the word ‘romp’ a good name, this barnstorming one-man swashbuckling adventure was my pick of the Edinburgh Fringe, where it picked up the best newcomer award for he energetic Ciaran Dowd, playing the passionate, if dim-witted Zorro-style swordsman with all the Spanish elan he could muster. 

A mad story, some wonderfully silly set pieces and a winning devil-may-care attitude – plus a determination to jam in so many gags wherever one might be accommodated – made this a riot from start to finish. Original review.

1. League Of Gentlemen, Sunderland, August

It was an utter joy to see Tubbs, Edward, Papa Lazarou, Pauline, Dr Chinnery, Pam Doove  et al back on the stage after all these years – and with so many precious things to share with us. 

So strong are the characters and the tongue-in-cheek sinister aesthetic created by Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and writer Jeremy Dyson that their influential cult status is not only undimmed by the years, but enhanced by them. The love for the denizens of Royston Vasey in all their grotesqueness was palpable, as was the team’s delight at playing to an appreciative crowd. 

Part back-to-basics – as performed in London’s Canal Cafe when they were still unknowns –  part full-blown production, their comeback show may have been part nostalgia, but it was also brilliantly funny it its own right and a reminder of how few comedies have come close to their brilliance in the last 25 years. Original review.

Published: 31 Dec 2018

What do you think?

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.