O'Comics 2008

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

If you were looking for a theme to unite most of the Irish comedians on this showcase, it would have to be their sexually inadequacy.

Three of the four acts spoke frankly of their failings in the bedroom, and given that no one – with the possible exception of the Welsh – does self-deprecation like the Irish, it made for some ludicrously entertaining anecdotes.

Compere Neil Delamer had the best of them, with his hilarious tale of humiliation at the hands of a statuesque Icelandic beauty. His unexpected delight at talking her into bed turned to brilliant farce, as the daunting practicalities of the situation become slowly apparent.

It’s a brilliant routine, like something from the best Farrelly Brothers movie, building slowly but methodically to its preposterously embarrassing climax; the comedy of the situation heightened by the contrast between his bumbling amiability and her clinical Nordic approach.

Delamere’s long had the effortless geniality that makes him the perfect host, but only recently has his conversational material started to catch up. His stories – of which he is almost always the butt – might start modestly, but they are constructed with the precision of a structural engineer, so a tale about diving with sharks that starts out as a pedestrian mockery of the ridiculous advice given in case of attack builds on those solid foundations into another impressive side-splitter.

The first act, the much-vaunted John Lynn, only three years into his stand-up career, is some way behind Delamere in evolving his material. This likeable ex-teacher has a winning physicality, skilfully re-enacting keenly-observed scenes from domestic life, but it’s only fitfully amusing.

Perhaps the sticking point is that his vignettes are just a little too realistic. When he recreates a girlfriend’s drunkenly argumentative behaviour, it’s with an impressive accuracy, so it’s not so much a joke as a reconstruction. So after he’s got the immediate laugh of recognition, he hasn’t much more to offer as the scene plays out, however articulate his descriptions.

Elsewhere he moans about the ‘little bastards’ for whom he had to feign concern in the classroom, and joins in with the sexual inadequacy confessionals, writing uncomfortably around on the stool to demonstrate the effects of his technique. It’s the only time he does look uncomfortable on the stage, which seems like his second home, but he could do with more substance to support his undeniable poise.

David O’Doherty floundered uncharacteristically at the start of his set, with an ill-advised choice of opening material. A windy routine about his brother’s technical difficulties with a computer seemed more like a distracted diversion than an introduction to his distinctive approach.

However preposterous potted history of Ireland, based on the over-marketed leprechaun and St Patrick mythology, started to break the ice, and he slowly began to build up a head of steam.

Although the ever-charming O’Doherty has been keen to cultivate the ‘whimsy’ angle, his low-fi delivery actually conceals some sharp, well-constructed gags and routines that even the slickest comic could use. Putting these into play, albeit belatedly, allowed him to build momentum.

His badger routine is an hilarious delight – yet another animal-attack story with a twist taking it well out of hack territory; the ill-judged popcorn prank is beautifully described; and the anecdote about waking up after a rare night on the beer is a quirky winner, far from the laddish drink-related war stories you can hear every weekend at Jongleurs.

The Beefs 2008 song on which he closed packed in the punchlines about his petty pet hates, more than compensating for his faltering start. Accompanied by his signature cheap keyboard, this witty ditty allowed him to end as strongly as his originality and talent deserve.

After the interval, Jason Byrne was unleashed, starting off with the affectionate, crowd-pleasing knocking of Quebec’s French speakers and ice-hockey obsession. In many ways, it’s standard local material but, as always with Byrne, it’s the maniacal fervour that holds the secret; the sheer passion with which he runs, bit between his teeth, into hilariously exaggerated indignity.

He’s a physical performer, prowling the stage like a psychotic T-Rex to prove an untenable point or rushing around like a dervish with an edge of dangerous unpredictability. That this unhinged wild man of comedy is not shackled to a unyielding script only adds to that liberating feel, as he’ll improvise wildly around anything that catches his attention-deficient eye.

The stage persona that of a man on the precipice of madness. But it’s also presented as this is the only possible reaction to an already insane world. Like Basily Fawlty before him, he has been driven to the edge by the relentless frustration that reality doesn’t fit his platonic ideal. Everyone, in short, is wrong but him.

In fact, he often paints a gothically dark picture of life, oppressed by the stifling forces of marriage, responsibility and an overbearing Catholic upbringing. He depicts all the human faces of these factors – from his wife to a priest – as gruesome grotesques. On these topics, his delivery becomes almost demonic, so it’s no surprise when his troubled imagination pictures Santa Claus killed in a bloody, brutal accident; the incongruity of the image, of course, proving hilarity.

With all that baggage, no wonder he escapes the grinding misery of existence through childish pranks and arsing about on stage. The hero of his stories is either his eight-year-old son – or his own immaturity, forever striking a blow against all the inflexible, misery-guts whose mundanity contrast so starkly with his own untethered dreams.

But surely no one could ever be glum after his typhoon of a performance. He is an unstoppable force of nature, wreaking a trail of comic destruction. Resistance is futile.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Montreal, July 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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