Brighton Comedy Festival: Best Of The Fest

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

For proof, should you need it, that the geeks have inherited the mirth, take a look at last night’s Best Of The Fest line-up at the Brighton Comedy Festival. The country’s top acts performing for nigh on 2,000 people and every one of them – Simon Amstell, David O’Doherty, Chris Addison and Mark Watson – a skinny white nerd no doubt compensating for a childhood of being ostracised by the cool kids. It’s a fact that host Ed Byrne, who falls into the same demographic himself, couldn’t fail to point it out.

The wiry, wily Irishman got the crowd nicely warmed up with his universal observational comedy, working around the moments we’ve all experienced. Girlfriends nudge their boyfriends with every set-up, recognising the scenarios he so skilfully paints. We’ve all been there, we’ve all noticed these things, but Byrne gives them eloquent voice and, crucially, tags a gag on the end.

Simon Amstell couldn’t be less bothered about common experiences. His set’s all about himself – and some fairly big ideas. His philosophies on the self are not what you might expect from a comic most famous for hosting a lightweight pop quiz, albeit with brilliant sarcasm, but they are as funny as they are thoughtful. In this extract from his recent, impressive tour, he dissects the meaning of identity – but most importantly has fun with the audience; and most especially their reaction to the word ‘rape’. It’s simultaneously challenging and playful; and proof that Amstell is becoming a better comic almost by the day.

It’s rare you see David O’Doherty perform his patented brand of ‘very low-energy musical whimsy’ to a crowd this size. But any worries his gentle, quirky wit will only work in intimate venues with already sympathetic audiences is short-lived. Most people in the Brighton Dome have surely never heard of him, but his easy charm quickly won them over, proving that broad appeal doesn’t mean lowest common denominator.

As usual, he ‘rocked our world – in quite a gentle way’ with low-fi keyboard accompanying songs on such mundane, but personally important, topics as sending a text to the person the text was about. He gives the impression of being confused and shambolic, but be in no doubt: this is a cleverly put-together set, with wit to match its warmth.

Cleverness is Chris Addison’s MO, too, and here he treated us to takes on dinosaurs and evolution, direct form his Ape That Got Lucky live show. Addison hasn’t performed stand-up for quite a while, what with being preoccupied filming The Thick Of It and his forthcoming BBC Two sitcom Lab Rats, and there’s a few small signs that he’s not quite match fit. His performance is as impressively physical as ever, but sometimes his tomfoolery seems more to his benefit than ours. And it doesn’t help that his overextended impersonation of pogoing Masai warriors leaves him short of breath.

The majority of the material is as sharp and intelligent as we’ve come to expect – though, paradoxically also rather silly. But he did seem to be firing on only seven of the eight cylinders, pitching him just below the top-flight act we all know him to be.

Mark Watson headlined, which proved to be the canny choice, given that his restless energy would have been a very hard act to follow. His great skill is that he sounds like he’s freewheeling on topics from the sublime (the ‘terror’) to the ridiculous (a sandwich on a train), when in reality the routines are brilliantly engineered to maximise the laughs. He’s not above an oral sex joke, or a swipe at vacuous media, but he approaches his topics from such an oblique angle, and makes everything sound so fresh, that he sparkles with originality and verve.

In some comedy festivals, ‘best of the fest’ can be a misnomer for a roster of acts who just happen to be around. In Brighton, it’s not just the Best Of The Fest you see, but some of the best stand-ups working in Britain today. They may be fully-fledged geeks, but it’s unlikely they’ll need to fall back on their education.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Brighton, October 19

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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