Chris Neill: Bearded Wonder

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

The kindest way to put it would be to say that Chris Neill takes time to hit his stride. Harsher, but tragically true, would be to say his preamble was so dull it induced sleep in a man in the front row – and before 7.30pm, too.

He starts by wittering on about other gigs he’s recently done in various dreary towns, and the inevitable disappointments they held. ‘I’ve got no material,’ he confesses as he launched into yet another moan. ‘Don’t laugh, it’s really quite true.’

Sadly, that does seem to be the case. This is the only time in the first 20 minutes when he can possibly ask the audience not to laugh without it sounding cruelly ironic. Gags are very thin on the ground, as he struggles to find a point with this meandering, low-energy ad libbing. It’s as if he’s back on Just A Minute, where he’s something a regular, and trying to speak, unprepared, on the subject of ‘my mediocre life’ without hesitation, repetition or punchline.

Slowly he moves into something resembling prepared routines, but it’s still hard to find much excitement in underpowered observations about stretch limos more likely to hold partying girls than visiting bigwigs.

More flannel later, and we’re on to his early jobs, working in a haberdashery department of Liberty’s department store. So at least he did once work with good-quality material. Boom! Boom!

Neill is hard to dislike, because he comes across as so genuine – even if he does have the sort of theatrically camp delivery even Frankie Howerd might have thought twice about. But you remain on his side, willing him to find his focus in the face of overwhelming evidence that he never will.

But eventually, patience is rewarded, and he does begin to hit home. Starting with that haberdashery story, he shows his mettle. Essentially, he’s a frightful middle-class snob and woe betide anyone who doesn’t share his exacting standards.

So the knives come out for the likes of Jodie Marsh and Martine McCutcheon, or waiting staff who don’t offer him the service he thinks he deserves. And these knives would be the finest Yoshikin designer brand, given he’s such a dedicated foodie.

The last 20 minutes or so are a blast, as his razor-sharp intolerance skewers all the targets that come into his sights. His prissiness knows no bounds, and his persona – basically a human version of a Sunday newspaper supplement, but with a devastatingly acidic wit – is so precisely defined that the audience always knows exactly where he’s coming from.

But as a show, Bearded Wonder feels like a club set over-extended by a man who’d rather hear the sound of his own voice than an audience laughing. The prepared material is great, but on this evidence Neill is not really the sort of act who can be relied upon to riff without a script, and still be funny.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Brighton Comedy Festival, October 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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