'One of the most monumental experiences of the year so far...' | Tim Harding's comedy diary

'One of the most monumental experiences of the year so far...'

Tim Harding's comedy diary

Tim Harding's comedy diaryIn the second of his new fortnightly columns, reviewer Tim Harding gives a rundown of the best comedy he's been watching in London... 

As a live stand-up obsessive, I mostly absorb comedy while sitting towards the back of a dark room in a basement somewhere in London. When I do this, I suppose myself to be getting comedy ‘from the source’; lips fastened round the spigot, gullet ballooning painfully, before the TV commissioners get a chance to dilute it or even put it in a cup for me.

Having said that, one of the most monumental experiences of the year so far has been the release of The Delightful Sausage’s new radio sitcom Icklewick FM, partly because it successfully synthesises the quicksilver quality of live improvisation.

The duo play radio hosts in a small Northern English town, besieged by the phone-ins of countless unsavoury oddballs, and for the oddballs in question, the Sausage have assembled a real murderer’s row of talent, much of it from the North. 

There are recurring roles for Mark Silcox, Colin Hoult, Lucy Beaumont, Jen Brister, Phil Ellis, Ed Night, Steen Raskopoulos and a particularly brilliant Shivani Thussu, all of whom are doing some of the best voice work of their respective careers – plus dozens of extra cameos. 

The Sausage apparently recorded almost 24 hours of improvised material and then edited it down to three hours for these six episodes, and the effect is to produce material that sounds spontaneous but is full of killer lines. 

It brings back very fond memories of their first podcast Tiredness Kills, which had the same cracked sense of humour and superb sound-editing. I wish this would come out every week forever, but I’m also not looking to give The Sausage duo of Chris Cantrill and Amy Gledhill a mental breakdown.

In the live arena, my first appointment was Louise Young’s Feral at the Soho Theatre, part of an ongoing project to catch every Edinburgh-nominated show. 

Young was nominated for newcomer last year, and this is a very classic newcomer show – a whistle-stop tour of a biography and a preponderance of the local stereotype stuff that works as an intro when you’ve only got five minutes on a mixed bill. 

She’s a confident performer with a strong identity pitch (half Turkish Geordie lesbian) and has clearly lived a life (this show has a lot of material about getting arrested and going off the rails) but it reminded me of when you meet someone interesting at a party and don’t have enough time to really connect with them. 

She’s the kind of performer where you wish you could skip straight to the second or third hour, once she’s found her real USP and gotten the getting-to-know-you stuff out of the way. I think she’ll be better the deeper she goes.

Ian Smith, nominated for best show last year, is a performer at exactly that stage. His seventh hour, Crushing (tour dates) is as crystalline and perfectly-formed as 60 minutes of stand-up is likely to get. 

There are no frills, gimmicks or agenda, he just kills it every time. Attempting to stave off anxious collapse and in danger of grinding his teeth down to a fine powder, in this show he’s on a quest to relax, leading to such anecdotal centrepieces as a trip to Bratislava with his hairdresser to destroy a car, and a catastrophic experience in a sensory-deprivation pod. Weirdly, his disaster in the pod exactly mirrored what happened to me when I tried it. Perhaps there’s a conceptual flaw here that isn’t being talked about. 

One of my favourite shows of last year, and it hasn’t lost a step on third rewatch. It's lovely to see him getting the attention he’s deserved for a while now.

Finally, in a week in which I also caught some big boring arena shows for my other job, it was a real pleasure to get back into the work-in-progress scene with Conscious Thots, a split hour from Aisha Amanduri and Mustafa Yasin. 

Both are very young and very green and mainly playing to a roomful of friends at the Bill Murray, but I liked what I saw. Amanduri grew up in Kazakhstan, a post-Soviet Muslim society, and has some great dirty jokes and a unique cultural perspective. Yasin is from Pakistan and has more of an observational bent. They’re two stylish, confident comics, worth watching out for.

• Follow Tim on X at @hotfingersclub

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Published: 9 Feb 2024

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