BBC Comedy Presents... September 2008

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Won’t someone please write Lenny Henry a decent set? The man’s a performance powerhouse, radiating charisma and bathing the nicely intimate Soho Revue Bar in warmth and goodwill – but he’s let down by decidedly dog-eared material.

But this undisputed national treasure is so likeable that he not even the quality of his gags – nor his very showbizzy shiny suit – can dent his standing in the audience’s affections.

His love of music formed the backbone of his act at this BBC Comedy Presents gig, and he was rarely a few seconds from a backing track kicking in, with the extra burst of energy that inevitably entails. Spoof bluesman Hound Dog Smith provided a highlight, as did his NWA version of Humpty Dumpty.

But his apparently irony-free attempt at beatboxing was as embarrassing as only a 50-year-old trying to beatbox can be; his mocking of Tina Turner’s dancing seemed to belong in the Eighties; while his misheard lyrics of Desmond Dekker’s The Israelites was so old it was once used to advertise cassette tape. Remember C-90s, anyone?

Elsewhere, a few pat observations on relationships and a tired gag about Heather Mills being like a pirate pretty much sum up the limited ambitions of the material.

The acts Henry introduced were a mixed bunch too, with an underpowered first half but an impressive and enjoyable part two.

First up was Kojo, another act with a lot of stage presence but too little distinctive material. There’s some very old jokes here about homeless people and Jehovah’s Witnesses, a by-the-numbers ‘imagine if an African person did the Tube announcements’ routine and section about bad breath and ‘skanky strip clubs’ that have neither a point nor a strong gag to them.

His delivery’s appealing, lively but with a conspiratorial air as if he is confiding great truths. He’s not, but he’s amiable enough company as he trots through the largely mundane content.

Multicultural sketch group United Colours Of Comedy repeated variations of the same lightweight joke a handful of times. Some urban street scene would be played out – often involving unsubtle racial stereotypes – only to be cut short with a voiceover revealing it to be an ad for Claims Direct, loan consolidators or similar such predictable payoff. Yet again, appealing performances let down by weak material.

After the interval, Shappi Khorsandi – who we reviewed only yesterday at the Pimm’s Summerfest – sparkled with her usual zest and punch. Multiculturalism’s at the heart of her set too, but not exclusively so, and it’s covered with a deft lightness of touch.

She mocks well-meaning middle-class liberals enjoying their generic ethnic Radio 4 plays, as much as the impenetrably bizarre yoof culture. Equally, though, she’ll have fun with her own Blue Peterish manner, or subvert the uplifting stories stand-ups often tell as she recounts with her run-in with an inconsiderate fellow bus passenger.

Highlight of the night – and indeed he would be the highlight of almost any night – was Milton Jones, with his unassailable canon of twisted, hyper-inventive one-liners. A couple of the gags are real groaners, but even then you cannot help but be filled with grudging admiration at the audacity and complexity of the writing.

But these are the rare exception. While he’s resourceful, surreal and strikingly original, his imagination is almost always distilled into hilarious material, which combines perfectly with his deliciously weird stage persona.

If only Lenny had such good gags…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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