Tim Allen gala

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

For Tim Allen, this was hailed as a triumphant return to the festival where he made his name, leaping from circuit headliner to sitcom superstar through one impressive performance.

Expectations are naturally high from a comic who’s conquered Hollywood, no matter how long it might have been since he’s done any stand-up, so the pressure is most definitely on.

But if he was feeling it, the unflappable Allen wasn’t letting on, exuding that easy, stylish confidence of a man who’s never forgotten his craft.

He opens with a frail double entendre about ‘cocksucker’, the sort obvious icebreaker that you might hear anywhere. But it’s the way Allen teases around the subject that makes it special, relishing the naughty words he rolls around his mouth. He makes us all feel like impish children in a shared conspiracy of mischief.

Of his own younger years, Allen recalls how he wasn’t mollycoddled like today’s kids, fussed over by overprotected parents. Quite the opposite, in fact - not only did he get to play with air rifles, but dynamite, too. The homespun yarns are again elevated by a skilful delivery of mock incredulity that they were allowed to get away with such things at the age of eight.

Every observational topic he tackles – from the brutality of the German language to the design fault of the testicle – benefits equally from his perfectly-tailored delivery to produce routines of silken quality, even if the material isn’t overly ambitious. His many ad-libs hit the spot, too.

All that good work is flushed away later, however, with a couple of duff sketches: one in which he talks us through an old Playboy pin-up from his youth with one of those magic pens sports commentators use on screen; the second a remake of The Passion Of The Christ as The Fashion Of The Christ complete with catwalk, models, designer robes and even a real-life donkey in what is possibly the most expensive pun ever.

But Allen’s straightforward stand-up is classy – and the same could rightly be said of his first guest, Stewart Francis.

His well-structured set takes great joy in wordplay, not necessarily your common-or-garden pun, but more in the application of language. Musicians often say the notes you leave out are more important than those you actually play, and the same applies to Francis’s work – the joke is more often that not in what’s left unsaid.

Each gag, too, is a lean one-liner – eminently quotable phrases without a syllable of fat: "Money-wise, I’m set for life. As long as I die next Tuesday." Perfect.

Freddie Roman is a gag-merchant from a different generation, telling the sort of extravagant stories you’re in no doubt never actually happened. He’s an accomplished technician and dean of New York’s Friar’s Club, which suggests he’s respected by his peers. The gags are OK, but it’s a lifetime’s experience that we’re respecting here.

Dwayne Perkins has an eclectic mix of approaches to his subjects, which makes it difficult to get a handle on where he’s coming from. Much of his set is straightforward observational comedy about how he doesn’t like to hear his athletes talk and the like; elsewhere he jokingly advocates a ruthless caste system based on how good you look, giving him the chance to get some of those put-downs out.

But when he talks about race, things promise to get more interesting, raising the ideas of why his peers consider him not to be a ‘real’ black man, and the politically-incorrect attitudes towards inter-racial relationships. But he only ever scratches the surface to go for the quick gag, when, with something meatier, he could really stand out.

Next, New Zealand’s Flight Of The Conchords delivered a couple of their crowd-pleasing greatest hits – not that anyone over here had ever heard them before, folk parody being a much-overlooked part of the North American comedy scene.

Their tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the lay-dees of the world (even the ladyboy lay-dees) and the cutesy tale of Albe, The Racist Dragon charmed an audience initially doubtful of the very subdued humour. And it all comes with a happy ending to warm the heart.

Tim Allen then introduced Archie Bunker – at least that’s what it sounded like. It actually turned out to be Arj Barker.

Limbering up with a few knob gags, and some playful knocking of the festival’s French-speaking hosts, Barker quickly proved himself amiable, animated and naturally funny.

Some of his material can be a little lightweight, although there’s hidden substance to the stronger segments, most notably an inspired, extended skit about the simple act of buying walking shoes. Yet it’s the dynamism of the delivery that’s his biggest asset – and what contributed most to his success.

Megan Mooney, on the other hand, is almost rooted to the spot as she relates her lacklustre set. There’s a good share of smileworthy moments, as she discusses her mother’s lack of a gaydar or her impolite fascination with a girl’s glass eye, but she never really musters enough interest to stand out.

Martial arts group Sideswipe were all very impressive – well, probably, I couldn’t really care enough about a martial arts group to pay them any attention. I’m not sure what they were doing in a comedy show, when an interval would have been a much more welcome use of the time, but I guess martial arts experts are not the sort of people you’re going to turn down if they want to get onto your show.

Headliner was Lewis Black, who is an angry man. A very angry man indeed. He’s furious that his President is out of control; he’s furious that a fleeting glimpse of Janet Jackson’s breast sends his country into such paroxysms of censorial concern and he’s furious that gay marriage is the only thing in American people can find to fret over when the whole country’s turning to shit

His rage is focussed on politicians. All of them. He holds the entire process in contempt, ditto the media and ditto big business.

It’s not a unique stance for a comedian, and some of his arguments are a little superficial compared to the painstakingly researched of the real hardcore lefties – but he hits his targets hard and he hits them often,

You can’t fault his impassioned spirit, either, as every line is spat out in scornful derision, and he has a brilliant way of expressing his anger in the most devastating of ways, all of which combine to produce a powerful set.

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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