Yanks Your Chain

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

This one-night-only showcase promised a stellar line-up of the hottest American comics around, but what it delivered was mainly a triumph of style over tired content… with a sizeable side-order of casual, low-level racism.

All three of these US acts lean heavily on zany foreign voices to punch up their material, from Arnold Schwazenegger’s stilted Austrian accent to the all-time No 1 favourite silly comedy stereptype, the hilarious Oriential.

Waitresses in Chinese restaurants, they sound something like this… What if an airline hit turbulence, and the pilot was French! He’d probably go a little bit like this… Or if he was Mexican! What if an Indian man did karaoke? It’d be like this…

The first material is Jo Koy’s, the second Jamie Kennedy’s and the third Pablo Francisco’s. That they depend on mimicking someone who sounds a bit different from them for a cheap laugh is bad enough, but the fact that every comic goes down a near-identical route shows a depressing dearth of imagination.

But if you’re going to do this style of comedy, you might as well do it with pizzazz, which is where Francisco, pictured, earned his headliner billing. His voice is a genuinely impressive instrument, able to whip from a throaty, rumbling bass to a high-pitched squeak in the same breath.

He’s a one-man sound effects department, and his high-octane set opens with a stunningly impressive firestorm of daft noises and exaggerated voices. The effect is explosive, and he unleashes an energy that tingles round the room.

There’s the briefest snippets of famous voices, and more comedy jingles than the most annoying zoo radio show. But never underestimate the power of a simple ‘boink boink’ to get a laugh.

This is a pace he can’t possibly sustain, unfortunately, and he gradually eases into a delivery of more conventional tempo, though his bag of vocal tricks is always close at hand. At first, the material stays strong, especially the spoof movie trailers recreating the spot-on faux gravitas of the ubiquitous voiceover guy, but the set’s impact gradually diminishes.

It isn’t long before we’re into impressions of Chinese people having sex, off-the-peg Viagra jokes and dead-end Brokeback Mountain references – not gags, you’ll note, as just mentioning the movie is still, apparently, hilarious enough. Gay cowboys! Imagine! And the Indian karaoke routine seems to last an age, as Francisco repetitively catalogues songs they might sing, with the word ‘dot’ replacing a key word, in lame reference to the bindu. You can start with Who Let The Dots Out? and make your own list.

For five minutes, he was brilliant, for ten good, but after half an hour, the wind had definitely gone out of his sails.

Filipino-American stand-up Jo Koy never even got any wind in his, with a vapid set that made you wonder what Variety magazine was seeing when they named him one of the ‘10 comics to watch’ last year.

He’s got the confidence, posturing and poise down to pat, but the sluggish set limps from one half-baked observation to the next. There’s three main themes to his set: Chinese people, the penis and his own five-year old ‘crazy midget’ of a child; all of which offer ample opportunity to drop into funny accents or zealous overacting as he recreates the scenes he’s describing.

Koy tries to spin up every comment with fake enthusiasm. ‘You ever tried to xxx? Holy shit! It’s crazy… Holy fuck, man!’ Doesn’t matter what the xxx is, but the reflex reaction to the rhythm is a laugh, at least the first few times he attempts it, before it becomes all-too evident he has little to back up the bald statements.

There’s a lot of textbook technique here. Witness, too the exaggerated stage whispers and the delivery wavering between the camp and the laid-back. But beyond that, punch lines are sparse. He gets a smattering of titters from the Shepherds Bush Empire audience, but also large pockets of uninterest.

Jamie Kennedy, too, is a skilful operator, a gifted mimic with bags of energy, likeability and confidence – but lacking much idea what to do with all these talents. So in deference to playing in Britain, he’ll impersonate Ozzy Osbourne, David Beckham and Harry Potter, but with no jokes to deliver in their voices.

The boy wizard, for example, he imagines as gay, which culminates in a watery-weak ‘magic wand’ joke. Please.

Kennedy – who starred in his own hidden-camera show in the States – was the worst offender for the ‘imagine an ethnic person doing this job’ material, showcasing his gift for impersonation, but highlighting his lack of inspiration. Comic acting seems his forte, not stand-up.

The show was introduced by the one non-Yank on the bill, London-based Australian Jim Jeffries, who didn’t seem entirely sure what was going on – even beyond his usual dazed-and-confused persona. It meant we got 15 minutes more of Jo Koy as he missed the cue for the interval.

But Jeffries is too wilfully offensive to ever be the best person to warm an audience up. Rather than building up gently, one of his first punchlines was ‘…so I raped her.’ And there was just the tip of the iceberg. No one peddles filth quite like him, but here seemed to be the wrong time and the wrong place for his tried-and-tested sickness.

All in all, a disappointing night. Better American acts make the transatlantic trip more regularly – and few charge the £22.50 this mediocre line-up demanded.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
July 7, 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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