The most memorable comedy gigs of 2022 | least according to Chortle editor Steve Bennett

The most memorable comedy gigs of 2022 least according to Chortle editor Steve Bennett

In the last 12 months, the world of stand-up has gingerly got back on its feet after being gutted by the pandemic. Here Chortle editor Steve Bennett takes a personal look back at his ten most memorable gigs of the year.

10. I’m With Stupid, Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh, August

Memorable, perhaps for the wrong reasons as this was one of those Edinburgh Fringe shows where a performer is faced with doing a show to an audience of just one… and it’s a reviewer. 

Still, JD Shapiro was very much of the ‘show must go on’ mentality and thankfully, his storytelling show –  featuring anecdotes from his time as a Hollywood screenwriter and Stan Lee’s protege – worked in such an intimate situation, and the hour seemed like a friendly - if one-way - chat.

9. Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, The O2, London, September

Thanks to his uniquely compelling delivery, Chappelle can make the soulless cavern of the O2 seem almost as personal as that one-on-one show. And at his appearance in London this autumn avoided the more contentious gender topics that have recently soured his reputation, making for a masterclass in storytelling, including an account of him being assaulted on stage at the Hollywood Bowl.

All this and a great set from co-headliner Chris Rock - who briefly addressed being slapped at the Oscars by Will Smith – and a superb support bill comprising Earthquake, Ali Wong, Aziz Ansari and ‘roastmaster’ Jeff Ross as MC.

8. Kate Barron, The Tron, Edinburgh, August

Fire alarms going off mid-show is a fact of life at the Fringe, and rare is the comedian who doesn’t have a war story about finishing their show in the street. It always adds an extra frisson to a gig. It happened to Canadian comic Kate Barron the night I saw her – and at the worst possible moment, as she reached the denouement of her show: a heartbreaking revelation of her lowest point, from which emerged the apparently bulletproof comedian on stage before us.

That we had to strain to hear a powerful recording she played in a busy Edinburgh street actually added to the poignancy: a quiet voice almost lost in the hubbub. Even without this moment, her Fringe debut was the calling card of an assured comedian able to structure a impactful show… the unplanned finale was just the icing on the cake.

7. Tim Key: Mulberry, Arcola Theatre, London, November

Many comedians were inspired by lockdown - how could they not, given how the experience was both bizarre and universal? But Tim Key’s show (and his anthologies of poetry) is surely one of the best responses. This show took the global pandemic as a personal affront, stymying his career that was on the verge of ‘household name’ territory. The arrogance of believing himself special is tempered by the feeling the lack of social contact drove him to the verge of a mental breakdown.

However the whole gloriously offbeat show, peppered with his distinctively delightful poems, was given an uplifting feeling by his giddiness at being finally allowed back on stage again that proved highly infectious. If that’s not an inappropriate word.

6. Kevin Bridges, Brighton Dome, October

The starting point for Kevin Bridges’ tour was also lockdown – which he managed to keep fresh, despite drawing on common experiences.

His Overdue Catch-Up tour cemented his reputation as one the most naturally funny stand-ups around, and he skilfully blended Everyman observational comedy with some discussion of mental health issues, treated in the same casually hilarious way he’d talk about, say, his piles.

As authentic as it was funny, his tour was a step up in terms putting substance behind his deceptively easy-going conversational style

5. Frankie Thompson: Catts. Pleasance, Edinburgh, August

There was no show quite like this: a frenetically-paced mashup of pop culture clips, which Frankie Thompson lip-synched to with split-second precision. Yet what could have effectively been an hour-long TikTok was given complexity: the on-screen noise represented the fizzing of her overactive mind, as she collapsed into an antisocial, misunderstood cat lady. And it was quite the ride.

Thomson’s mesmerising performance added more levels to a witty, overwhelming multimedia performance that stays in the mind.

4. Glenn Moore, Pleasance, Edinburgh, August

Offering more jokes per minute than you could ever believe possible, Glenn Moore’s Fringe show was a masterclass in efficiency – but with no compromise on quality as he squeezed gag upon gag into this drum-tight hour, performed with the same vigour as the muscular writing.

The relentless jokes also served a story from Moore’s life, about whether he and his girlfriend should have a child, and whether he was devoting too much time to his career. His relationship’s loss is comedy’s gain, for this intense, satisfying, stimulating show was a real stand-out.

3. Peter Kay, The O2, London, December

‘Long-awaited’ can’t do justice to the build-up of anticipation for Peter Kay’s comeback tour, which will take him well into 2025. The show is memorable not so much for the stand-up – which gave fans exactly the reassuring blast of old-school nostalgia they wanted after 12 years away – but for his use of the arena space.

Kay has always possessed the sensibilities of a Saturday night shiny-floor entertainer, and the scale of the venue let him indulge that to the full. He rightly swore the audience to secrecy, asking for phones to be kept at bay. Mentioning that fact might unrealistically raise expectations, but you have to acknowledge the spectacle of his finale, delivering everything his audience craves.

2. Jordan Gray, Assembly, Edinburgh, August

Jordan Gray is undoubtedly one of the breakthrough talents of 2022 (Leo Reich being another). In Edinburgh she was performing in a glorified shipping container at the Fringe; by autumn she was playing the London Palladium and creating a watercooler TV moment by whipping her kit off on Channel 4’s one-off revival of Friday Night Live.

That she’s a trans women puts her at the heart of the zeitgeist, and if that can be an unpleasant place to be given the toxicity surrounding anything to do with gender, this brassy comedian isn’t concerned. She’s nobody’s ‘issue’ just a (literally) balls-out entertainer with a proud, ‘this is me, get used to it’ vibe.

Her Fringe show, Is It A Bird?, was an absolute blast. Shades of Russell Brand and Tim Minchin, certainly, but with attitude of her own, including unique perspective on the stand-up clichés of the difference between men and women. As an announcement of her intent to storm the world of comedy, it couldn’t be more loud, or more clear.

1. Sam Campbell, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh, August

For me, the most memorable comedy moment of 2022 came not on stage, but off it… an Edinburgh Fringe experience I became aware of a few days before the festival started when my messages started lighting up. Had I seen it? What did it mean?

A massive life-sized photograph of me standing next to Australian comedian Sam Campbell had been erected on Cowgate. Twice the width of the surrounding posters, it contained no wording, or other information; just the two of us standing slightly awkwardly at a drinks do to mark the announcement of the awards at this year’s the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Five months on and I still don’t know what to make of it, which was surely always the aim of Campbell’s mischief. What I can say is how odd it is that comedians pay thousands of pounds to have their faces plastered across the city, as it’s quite disconcerting to have your own image beam out at you every day. But I’m taking the discombobulating stunt as flattery, in a perverse way.

The image also featured in Campbell’s show, presumably baffling many, which scooped Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Award. I saw the performance after that news had been announced, giving an extra buzz to Campbell’s already kinetic performance. Daft ideas fizz out of his mind in a flurry of surreal situations, silly wordplay, off-kilter sketches and eccentric observational comedy with the giddy excitement of a hyperactive child, delighted with what escapades he’s been up to. It was a blast of a show, and with a unique advertising campaign I’ll certainly always remember.

Published: 30 Dec 2022

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