You Pay We Say and Happy

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Of all the regional comedy festivals, Manchester’s is probably the best at encouraging local acts to put together their own shows. For punters it means a more varied schedule, for comics the chance to try something new away from the expense and competition of Edinburgh.

For newer acts, they don’t even have to be full-length shows; rather they can be extended sets around a theme, perhaps experimenting with the way they want their set to develop. Two such shows, featuring five Manchester comics, were staged in front of smallish audiences at the city’s Waldolf pub last night.

The first, You Pay, We Say, featured the diverse styles of Jonathan Paylor and Jo Dakin, each doing a 20-minute set with some under-rehearsed bits of joint business topping and tailing each. Awkward and stilted, these segments – including a spoof poetry slam and a Q&A with the evening’s compere, John Cooper – these actually served to make the proceedings feel LESS like a show than had the comics just got on with the stand-up job in hand.

Paylor is a gay Arsenal fan from Yorkshire – none of which is a particularly fascinating fact, but still they form the basis for about half his material, talking about coming out to his friends… as a football devotee (do you see what he did there), or predictable gags about Seaman and Butts. The rest of his set revolves around the mundane, a-bit-shit-but-we-like-it-that-way life in the North West, from Aldi shops to Blackpool. It’s mildly amusing, like a time-killing chat with a mate, but nowhere near punchy enough for solid stand-up.

Dakin is definitely different in her approach; different from most other acts around, in fact. She’s completely hatstand bonkers, with a deranged set that’s forever wrongfooting the audience. Such a quirky approach tends to be hit and miss, but she’s got a keen ear for how language works – and how it can be subverted – and she certainly earns points for originality.

She starts by deconstructing the ladettish style of some female stand-ups – ‘you know what it’s like, eh ladies?’ – which she pretty much negates by doing her own take on smear tests later in the set. But there’s a nice off-beam charm to her delivery that serves her well, even when the topic is something as inconsequential as patronising makeover shows, but she comes into her own in more eccentric segments, such as slyly slipping into Bon Jovi lyrics.

Dakin’s routine is patchy, definitely, but interesting to observe, wildly unpredictable, and sporadically very, very funny.

The second show of the night featured three takes on happiness from Damon Larkin, Tim Craven and Andy Kind.

Larkin had the lion’s share of the time, and rightly so, as he’s come up with a potted philosophy – summed up in a set of rules cheekily dubbed Larkin’s Big Six – to share with the audience. It was pretty much no-nonsense common sense, debunking idiotic self-help ideas and pointing out the obvious routes to happiness from cherishing your friends and not being a slave to the dollar, but it was warmly and intelligently told.

At first glance, he’s an unlikely life coach, as he plays up to the succinct description of ‘cuddly loser’ that he was given as soon as he started stand-up, but there’s clearly more to him than that. He hasn’t quite found the voice that will bridge the gap between the sharp brain and how he’s perceived, but he’s clearly putting the effort in. Plus he is relaxed and confident enough on stage to annotate his set and enjoy the moment, which makes for an enjoyable experience.

Tim Craven also gave a commentary on his section, but only because he had to, really, given how poorly he was going down. He had a specially created routine that, he said, aimed at poignancy - but it missed by a country mile. He was unfocussed and failed to include much in the way of jokes, then became obsessed by his ongoing failure, which was inevitable given the wordy, boring and under-written routine he was attempting.

Andy Kind introduces himself as a ‘big Christian’, which immediately triggers indelible impressions of trendy vicars trying to prove they’re in touch, but failing miserably by introducing Jesus into every conversation. And Kind does little to dispel that.

Every routine manages to bring his faith into it, whether it’s about declining the offer of a street prostitute to a road rage incident. He also does formulaic routines such as ‘imagine a Christian Bond villain’ which sounds like just the hack subject just about every ethnic comedian has tried before. The novelty of it being Christian added nothing.

Kind’s got a powerful enough delivery, but he should be more interesting than he is. Religion is suddenly globally important, and to hear the insight of perhaps the most under-represented voice in stand-up – a Christian happy to talk about it – could form the basis of something exciting. Instead, he just tells us how great it is that he’s a believer. Well, bully for him.

His set was cut short by a venue desperate to close (the shows were rehoused here at the last minute, and possibly couldn’t keep to the original schedule), so it’s possible Kind could have widened his routine out, but given the ten minutes or so we did get to see, it seems unlikely.

But for all the acts, tonight was about developing their craft. Hopefully they all learned something – and some have more to learn than others – so that taking part in the 2006 Manchester Comedy Festival, even at a relatively minor level, will have made them better comedians.

Review by: Steve Bennett

October 30, 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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