Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

When you hear of a benefit gig for a comedian who’s long slipped into obscurity, you fear the worst. Thankfully, however, Ted Chippington is in rude health, and the gig in his honour at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre was merely to raise the cash for a four-CD retrospective. More importantly, perhaps, it also raised his profile, prompting a raft of newspaper articles recalling this pioneer of alternative comedy who jacked it all in to become a truck driver in the States.

Chippington’s chief cheerleader has been Stewart Lee, who credits his fellow West Midlander as inspiring him to take up comedy in the Eighties, and the spirit of the night he put together in his name was to evoke those distant times. Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1985.

Then, alternative comedy had little foothold outside central London, and the rules – and audience expectations – had yet to solidify. There mightn’t have been the venues back then, but the church of comedy was a broader one.

So for Tedstock, the young acts of the time who’ve grown into elder statesmen, dusted down their old routines. What other chance do you get to see material written in the Eighties?

Well Jongleurs, obviously.

The difference here is that these artists have moved on and are rather uncomfortable about dusting down this old material. See Phill Jupitus’s embarrassment as he retells one of his Porky The Poet verses about Beano characters growing up, hugely successful at the time, now cringingly bad. Or Richard Herring painfully deconstruction of the ‘Jamaica? No she went of her own accord gag’ from a hundred different angles, none of them particularly funny.

It was a catalogue of bad jokes, ill remembered and clunkily performed. Yet it was absolutely hilarious as the artifice of stand-up is stripped away and we can simply enjoy a night of people having a laugh together at stupid stuff.

Benign nutjob Josie Long – one of the new generation of comics alternating with the old guard – nailed it with stupid, mundane fantasies about dating hip-hop star Nelly. Then, a dreadful succession of non-jokes about celebrities starting businesses appropriate to their surname. This was truly in the spirit of Chippington, the self-confessed ‘anti-comedian’, but received the warmest of welcomes, giving lie to the heckler who once devastated young Long with the simple but brutal putdown: ‘You are doing it wrong.’

The material of Simon Munnery, who appeared in two guises as The Security Guard and Alan Parker, Urban Warrior, has best withstood the test of time. As the humourless guard, he deadpans dry one-liners much smarter than they seem; as the aimless, angry anarchist he angrily paces the stage, hectoring the system and subtly subverting adolescent rebellion with every empty agit-prop slogan. The only problem is he’s just too good, his expert rhetoric holding the audience in rapt attention at every turn.

Elsewhere Bridget Christie, Lee’s wife, appeared as novelist Dan Brown, retelling old jokes in overdramatic purple prose – a satire which has its great lines but always seems more suited to the printed page, like a Craig Brown parody, than performance. Wry Scotsman Stephen Carlin entertained with his crackpot theories and snooker obsession, the audience’s patience with his off-kilter viewpoints rewarded with some strikingly original thoughts. And Simon Amstell, said to have been brought in because none of the other acts were popular enough to shift tickets, mixed his ever-reliable set with a nostalgic attempt at recreating his naive first attempt at drama-school stand-up, complaining about Cilla Black’s Surprise, Surprise.

Then came the act most people had been waiting for – and it wasn’t Chippington, who hadn’t initially been scheduled to appear. Besides, few of the surprisingly young audience would have remembered him. It was the reunion after seven years – though it seems like longer – of Lee and Herring, promising a repackaged trot through their greatest hits.

Actually they started – after a rapturous welcome – with something bang up-to-date, mocking this week’s ubiquitous Mitchell and Webb Apple adverts, Herring pitifully and angrily whining that it should have been them enjoying such commercial, Lee’s implacable indifference only making his partner even wilder and juvenile.

It was all Knockabout fun, playing with the fact that both they, and their audience, knew the material so well. Punchlines were pre-empted, the comics mercilessly teased each other and the passage of time since this was first performed rather brutally, but hilariously, exposed. It might have only been a bit of self-aware mucking about, but it served as a great reminder of how much we’ve missed them together.

Then, by way of an anticlimax, the man who this whole night had been about. Despite the press coverage, it was still a surprise to see just how unwilling Chippington is to deliver anything like a joke. The profiles have concentrated on some of his more structured ‘I was walking down the road…’ jokes, but here he just twitters on, pretty much apropos of nothing. Even this savvy crowd were left bewildered as the anti-comedian struck. This was supposed to be a comedy legend?

I guess he’s just too willfully different to care much about gags and punchlines. John Peel was a big fan, and you can see parallels with some of the more extreme music he used to love – without much in the way of tune, melody or lyrics. Likewise, Chippington seems as if he’ll always too inaccessible, too hardcore, for many.

Still, I bought the CDs. I’ll give this cult another go. After all, anyone who inspired the impressive line-up that made tonight such a laugh has to be worth some effort.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

The CD set will be available from Big Print records, priced £15. Email bigprint@hotmail.com to order.

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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